One of the greatest rookies (and player's) of All-Time
The NBA has seen some amazing rookie years.
Abdul- Jabbar .
All-time guys whose exploits in those first years are well-storied. Guys who became legends and if you were to list the top ten of all time, I'm guessing a fair few of them would be in there.
But there is a rookie season that was unbelievable, that almost never gets talked about. One that, really, would become instant legend if it occurred today. It should be legend anyway, but for one reason or another, people seem to forget about one of the greatest rookie seasons in all of NBA history, by a player who became one of the best.
The rookie season, of Walt Bellamy.
All the way back in 1961, Walt Bellamy was the first overall pick by the Chicago Packers (the franchise that would eventually become, after relocation and several name changes, the Washington Wizards). He had previously been a star in college, being picked to represent the United States in that year's Olympic Games in Rome, earning himself the Gold Medal on the trip.
So...his rookie season. While his team struggled, managing just an 18-62 record (worst in the league), Bellamy blossomed. He averaged 31.6 ppg . (second only to Wilt Chamberlain's rookie season) He averaged 19 rebounds a game. He led the league in field goal percentage with 51.9% He was voted into the 1962 All-Star game, where he posted 23 points and 17 rebounds.
As if I need to tell you, he was voted the NBA rookie of the year.
Just look over those numbers again. Let it marinate.
Now tell me that is not amazing. Truly, amazing! I'll admit though I had heard of Bellamy's name, I didn't know much about him. So when I saw his name in a small bio, and saw those numbers next to his name, I was absolutely gobsmacked. That, is nothing short of pure domination.
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The player referred to as 'Bells' didn't stop wi th his inaugural season though. He continued to post amazing numbers throughout his career. His first four years as an NBA player he was an all-star, always averaging a double-double.
The team steadily improved, but not by a large amount. The team made a lot of trades to try and get Bellamy some help. Finding him All-Stars Gus Johnson and Don Ohl to help the cause. In 1964, Johnson and Bellamy bo th netted over 40 points, becoming the first teammates to do so in the same game.
That same season, the team finally made the playoffs. They made a large first round upset of the St.Louis Hawks, and went on to an epic, 6-game series with the Lakers. The team came up on the wrong side of a 4-2 series, though their losses were by an average margin of just 4 points. The following season, however, the team started slow once more, and Bellamy was finally traded away. His best years were for the Packers franchise, but he continued an amazing NBA career.
He took his workmanlike game with him, and kept on going for a huge 14-year career, during which he played for New York, Detroit, Atlanta and New Orleans.
When he finished his illustrious career in 1974, Walt Bellamy was the 6 th leading scorer of all-time (20,941; 20.1 ppg ) , and the third all-time rebounder (14, 241; 13.1 rpg ). He played in 1,043 of 1,055 games (98%). Yes, that’s right; he missed 12 games over 14 years. Absolutely unheard of (also, due to a scheduling when he was traded, he also holds the record for most games played in a season at 88). Again, just look at those numbers, where he finished. Even now, 35 years on, there are only six other players to score over 20,000 points and 14,000 rebounds. Chamberlain, Abdul- Jabbar , Elvin Hayes, Robert Parish, Moses Malone and Karl Malone. Some company eh?
That is an amazing career. But now, look up the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history according to the association named in 1997...and you won't see Bellamy's name. Not to say that any of those 50 are undeserving, but does Bellamy really not warrant a place? Considering where he finished in his career, where he still stands today? No, he does not have a ring, or have much major playoff success...but was that really his fault?
In my mind, Bells has definitely been shunned in this way.
Fortunately, he has been honored in a different way. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993, and very deservedly so.
But still, not only an astounding rookie, but a great player throughout his career should be far more celebrated. That first season definitely ranks with those names at the top of the page.
By Joe Buckley
Pro-Basketball Fans staff-writer
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