Zelmo Beaty is the proverbial classic case of a small town player who made it big.
Beaty grew up in Hillister, Texas, which is a quaint sawmill town located eight miles south of Woodville in south central Tyler County. With a population of only 250, Hillister was so small that it didn’t even have a high school or its share of normal modern-day conveniences that comes attached with a city.
But despite those humble beginnings, Beaty was able to hone his skills as a basketball player to the point where he became the No. 3 overall pick of the 1962 NBA Draft by the St. Louis Hawks. Numerous accolades later, Beaty has finally reached the pinnacle of his career as he’ll be posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
The enshrinement will be Friday at 6:30 p.m. in Springfield, Mass., and will be televised on NBA-TV, beginning with the Hall Of Fame Red Carpet Show at 5:30 p.m. Beaty will be presented by Lenny Wilkens.
A 6-foot-9, 225-pound center out of tiny Prairie View A&M, Beaty played in the National Basketball Association and American Basketball Association from 1962-1975.
During his 13-year career, Beaty scored 15,207 points and grabbed 9,665 rebounds. That includes averaging 16 points and 10.4 rebounds in his career in the NBA.
While appreciative that the NBA is bestowing its highest honor upon Beaty, Willie Wise wishes his former teammate could be on hand for the festivities. Beaty died of cancer on Aug. 27, 2013 at the age of 73.
"Is he deserving of the Hall of Fame?,’’ Wise asked. "Yeah, and it should have been 10 or 20 years ago.
"When he was alive, he should have gone in. So it’s a travesty that it’s been this long.’’
Beaty and Wise were teammates with the Los Angeles Stars and Utah Stars from 1969-’74. They spent the 1970-’74 seasons with the Utah Stars, where they led Utah to the 1971 ABA title.
"We were roommates on the road, and then upon retirement we lived about 5-10 minutes from one another (in suburban Seattle), so we maintained quite a relationship up until his death,’’ Wise said. "He took me under his wings and would tell me things like, ‘You can be just like Elgin Baylor. Do this, do this, do that, do this, do that, do this.’
"He would fill me full of knowledge on how to be a successful professional and an effective professional.’’
Beaty was equally successful and effective on every level. In 1957 and ’58, he led Woodville’s Scott High school to back-to-back Prairie View Interscholastic League Class 1A state titles.
In 1962, Beaty guided Prairie View A&M to the NAIA national championship. He also was a two-time first-team NAIA All-American in 1960 and ’62, and averaged 25 points and 20 rebounds during his four-year college career.
"He was probably one of the best undersized centers that you can play with,’’ said Ron Boone, a Utah teammate of Beaty’s from 1971-‘74. "When I played with him with the Stars he was the backbone of the team – he was our go-to guy.
"As far as popularity, those fans in Salt Lake City back then looked up to Zelmo Beaty the way the fans of Karl Malone looked up to him. You win the ABA championship that first year, the city just embraced you, and if there were any individuals that were embraced, Zelmo was at the top of the list.’’
Beaty played for the Hawks – in St. Louis and Atlanta – from 1962-’69, and for the Stars from ’70-’74. He finished his career with the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1974-’75 season, before returning to the ABA to coach the Virginia Squires during the ’75-’76 campaign.
Beaty was an NBA All-Star in 1966 and ’68, an ABA All-Star in ’71, ’72 and ’73, and was named the Most Valuable Player of the 1971 ABA playoffs.
"He was a quiet leader, but when he spoke everybody listened,’’ said Cincy Powell, who played a season-and-a-half in Utah with Beaty. "The more I think about him, he’s a guy that I had the utmost respect and all of his teammates had a lot of respect for him.
"I went fishing with him during the off-season. Our families were pretty close.’’
John Beasley recalled the time Beaty scored 62 points in an ABA game.
"From the waist up, I think Zelmo was about as strong as you can get,’’ said Beasley, who played with Beaty in Utah from 1971-’74. "Nobody was going to push him around.
"Zelmo also was a good person, and I don’t think you can get a much better person than him. He was a very personable person.’’
Despite being an accomplished basketball player, Beaty’s wife said he had a passion about becoming a carpenter.
"He helped build our house that we were in for 30-something years in Bellevue (Washington),’’ Annie Marie Beaty said. "A couple of years before he died, he had re-done our lower deck at the house, and I have pictures of him where he did that deck piece by piece.
"He loved all the outdoors stuff – gardening all the time. So the plants around the place were beautiful.’’
Beaty met his wife while they both were attending Prairie View. She was from nearby Navasota, Texas, and wasn’t exactly a basketball aficionado.
"People had to keep explaining to me about the (NBA) Draft,’’ Annie Beaty said. "I didn’t know about the NBA Draft and what that encompassed.
"When he got drafted by the Hawks and when they gave him his bonus money, that’s when he got me a ring, so that was nice. After he graduated and was drafted, about six months later we got married and we were married 50-plus years.’’
Beaty has been inducted into the Prairie View Hall of Fame, the College Basketball Hall of Fame, the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame, and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
"The only thing left now is for the ABA to honor him,’’ said Bill Downey, a Prairie View alumni who has a giant collection of the various mementos Beaty has achieved. "Although they’re defunct, they still honor their particularly outstanding players.
"And that’s the only Hall of Fame in that particular arena that he’s actually not in.’’
A three-time ABA All-Star from 1972-’74, Wise raved about how Beaty held his own while regularly guarding a laundry list of future Hall of Fame centers.
"On the court, he had to guard Nate Thurmond (6-11), Wilt Chamberlain (7-1) and Bill Russell (6-9) when he was in the NBA, and then in the ABA, Artis Gilmore, who is 7-2,’’ Wise said. "He gave away probably four, six or eight inches every night, and yet he was very effective because he had a tremendous mid-range jump shot.
"Everyone says he was 6-9 and 235, but he really was 6-7 ¾ and about 225 and he could really leap out of the gym. He wasn’t the most beautifully-looking player like Stephen Curry today, or like Magic Johnson was or James Worthy. But effectiveness – oh my goodness, oh my goodness -- he was so effective.’’
Beaty was part of the inaugural NBA all-rookie first team during the 1962-’63 season which also included John Havlicek, Dave DeBusschere, Chet Walker and Terry Dischinger.
Entering the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in a class that also includes, Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming and Allen Iverson among others, ties a rather substantial ribbon on Beaty’s distinguished career.
"It’s an extreme honor because I’m sure if he were here he would really enjoy this,’’ Annie Beaty said. "This would have been a highlight for him, so for us it’s en extreme honor.’’
And if Beaty was alive today to attend his latest Hall of Fame enshrinement, Annie Beaty said: "We would have to tie him down, I’m sure, because he would probably not get any sleep if he could go. He would just be beside himself.’’
Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2016
Friday, 6:30 p.m., NBA-TV
The Class of 2016
NBA referee Darrell Garretson
Eleven-time NBA All-Star Allen Iverson
Coach Tom Izzo
*Coach John McLendon
Three-time NBA Finals MVP Shaquille O’Neal
Four-time WNBA champion Sherly Swoopes
*ABA/NBA star Zelmo Beaty
Ex-Houston Rocket Yao Ming
*Pioneering multi-sport athlete Cumberland Posey
*Contributor Jerry Reinsdorf