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Walt Bellamy, Atlanta Hawk Great, Dies at 74

Once of the all-time great Atlanta Hawks, center Walt Bellamy, has passed away at the age of 74.

(Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images)

We wrote our homage to Bellamy as an all-time Atlanta Hawk in our never-finished look at the best to play in Atlanta.

Here is what we wrote then about Bellamy, our #15 all-time Atlanta Hawk:

Our #15 Hawk is one that many current fans may not be aware of, but he was pivotal in making the first few seasons after the Hawks moved to Atlanta successful with his rebounding, defense, and efficient offensive play.

Our #15 Greatest of All-Time Atlanta Hawk: "Big Bells," Walt Bellamy.

Bellamy, also an Olympian on the 1960 team, was a tremendous scorer early in his career, when he starred in four consecutive All-Star Games and was Rookie of the Year in 1961-62 for the Chicago Packers. Bellamy was in the top 10 in scoring and PER in each of his first five seasons in the league.

Despite being a top player, Bells was moved between the Bullets, Knicks, and Pistons before coming to Atlanta, in large part due to criticism that expected greater things from Bellamy than even his stellar statistics told. He was labeled "lazy" and was frequently the target of ire from fans and coaches alike.

But all that changed once he reached Atlanta, perhaps sliding into the mix under the radar, comparatively to his previous destinations. According to the excellent account of those days in Atlanta, "From Sweet Lou to 'Nique," Jeffrey Denberg writes:

But the Hawks never saw the difficult Bellamy. His arrival in 1970 marked a miraculous turnaround for the team that propelled Atlanta to the regular season divisional title. He rebounded, played defense, scored when necessary and passed.

That turnaround included that run division title in 1970, their last year in the Western division, and a run of solid second place finishes in the Central before Bellamy left and the team bottomed out in '74-'75. Before Bellamy's arrival in '69-70, the Hawks were 32-26, a .551 winning percentage and were 15-8 after, a .652 clip. They swept the Bulls in the first round before bowing to one of those great Laker teams in four games.

The trade that brought Bellamy in (by then GM Marty Blake) has to be considered one of the best in Atlanta Hawks history, filling the gap inside created when Zelmo Beatty jumped to the ABA prior to the season and bringing him in for almost nothing in the process.

Bellamy was acquired from Detroit for John Arthurs, who didn't even play a game for the Pistons. And while Bells was already 30 years old and past that all-NBA prime when he arrived in Atlanta, he still finished his time as a Hawk 10th in points per game (15.6), 2nd in rebounds per game (12.2), 4th in Total Rebound Rate (16.1), and 13th in PER (16.7). Tremendous production for a guy who played his age 30-34 years as a Hawk and with the team having to give up virtually nothing in return.

Bellamy pulled a double-double average for four of the five seasons with the Hawks, the lone exception being the last season, 1973-74, at age 34, when he averaged 13 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.

So despite his relative anonymity in the mural that is Atlanta Hawks history, Bellamy's production and impact on the franchise makes him a easy inclusion on this list.

The Hawks made a statement Saturday as well:

"The Atlanta Hawks family is saddened to learn of the death of Walt Bellamy at the age of 74 earlier today. The Hawks and the National Basketball Association have lost a giant. As an Olympic gold medalist, the first overall pick in 1961, Rookie of the Year in 1962, a four-time All-Star and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, his on-court accomplishments were overwhelming. Off the court, he was equally impactful as a family man, leader in the community, mentor and friend to many."