The NBA has seen some amazing rookie seasons.
Magic. Chamberlain. Russell. Jordan. Robertson.Abdul-Jabbar. Duncan. O'Neal. Baylor.
Hall of Famers whose exploits in those first years are well storied. Legends, who if you were to list the top 10 players ever, some of them would be in the conversation.
But there was a rookie season that was unbelievable. One that almost never gets talked about. One that would become instant legend if it occurred today. It should be, but for one reason or another, people seem to forget about one of the greatest rookie seasons in all of NBA history by 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, picked to represent the United States in that year's Olympic Games in Rome. He earned himself the Gold Medal on the trip.
During Bellamy's rookie season his team struggled, managing just an 18-62 record (worst in the league), but he blossomed. He averaged 31.6 points per game (second only to Wilt Chamberlain's rookie season), 19 rebound per, and lead the league in field goal percentage with 51.9 percent.
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.
Those numbers are nothing shot of pure domination.
The player referred to as "Bells," didn't stop with his inaugural season though. He continued to post amazing numbers throughout his career. His first four years had All-Star appearances as he averaged a double-double. His team steadily improved, but not by a large amount. They made a lot of trades to try and get Bellamy help, finding him All-Star's Gus Johnson and Don Ohl to help the cause.
In 1964, Johnson and Bellamy both 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 earned a large first round upset of the St. Louis Hawks, and went on to an epic six-game series with the Lakers.
The team came up on the wrong side of a 4-2 series, though their losses were by a average margin of just four 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.
When he finished his illustrious career in 1974, Walt Bellamy was the sixth 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 percent). Yes, you're 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 and where he finished. Even now, 35 years later, there are only six other players to score over 20,000 points and 14,000 rebounds. Those players are 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 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.