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Prairie View A&M’s Zelmo Beaty is finally in the Hall of Fame

He joins Willis Reed as the only other SWAC player in the HOF

Besides his immediate family, Willie Wise probably knew Zelmo Beaty better than anyone.

Beaty and Wise were teammates with the Los Angeles/Utah Stars from 1969 to 1974. They played the 1970 to 1974 seasons together with the team, and led Utah to the 1971 ABA title.

“He was very instrumental in my personal success in the ABA and in the NBA,’’ Wise said. “We were roommates on the road, and then upon retirement we lived about five to 10 minutes from one another [in suburban Seattle], so we maintained a relationship up until his death.

“I was over his house one month before he passed.’’

Beaty died of cancer at the age of 73 on Aug. 27, 2013. His illustrious basketball legacy, however, lives on, and on Friday the big man will posthumously take center stage as one of 10 people inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. Wise knows it’s a prestigious honor that’s warranted and long overdue.

“Is he deserving of the Hall of Fame?’’ Wise asked rhetorically. “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 was the No. 3 overall pick in the 1962 NBA draft by the St. Louis Hawks. He played for the Hawks — they moved to Atlanta in 1968 — through the ’68-’69 season before jumping to the ABA to join the Stars.

Beaty finished his career when he returned to the NBA and played the 1974-75 season with the Los Angeles Lakers. He completed his NBA/ABA career with 15,207 points and 9,665 rebounds and wound up averaging 16 points and 10.4 rebounds a game in the NBA.

Zelmo Beaty, LA Lakers in uniform.

Zelmo Beaty, LA Lakers in uniform.

Getty Images

“When I played with him with the Stars, he was the backbone of the team — he was our go-to guy,’’ said Ron Boone, who won an ABA title with Beaty in Salt Lake City in 1971. “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.

“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.’’

At 6-foot-9, Beaty was an undersized center who routinely went toe to toe with the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Artis Gilmore, Nate Thurmond and Willis Reed.

“He gave away probably four, six or eight inches every night, and yet he was very effective because he had a tremendous midrange jump shot,’’ Wise said. “Everyone says he was 6-foot-9 and 235, but he really was 6-foot-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.’’

Cincy Powell played with Beaty in Utah for a year and a half and remembers him as the team’s quintessential ringleader.

“He was a tough player,’’ Powell said. “I was playing with him when he had bad knees, but he was still very productive.

“He was a great shooter and a great rebounder, but the main thing about him is most of the centers he played against — like Wilt Chamberlain — they were taller than him and a lot of them could jump a lot higher than Z. But it didn’t matter because he was smart and was just really a winner.’’

Beaty was an NBA All-Star in 1966 and ’68, and an ABA All-Star in ’71, ’72 and ’73. He also joined John Havlicek, Dave DeBusschere, Chet Walker and Terry Dischinger on the NBA’s inaugural All-Rookie first team during the 1962-63 season.

John Bailey often reminisces about Beaty’s rugged style of play. He also acknowledged the sense of calmness, which was a part of Beaty’s repertoire. “From the waist up, I think Zelmo was about as strong as you can get,’’ said Bailey, a Utah teammate of Beaty’s from 1971 to 1974. “Nobody was going to push him around.’’

Beaty was born in Hillister, Texas, which is a small sawmill town located eight miles south of Woodville, Texas, in south central Tyler County. Hillister didn’t have a high school, so Beaty led Woodville Scott High School to back-to-back Prairie View Interscholastic League Class 1A state titles in 1957 and ’58.

From there, Beaty averaged 25 points and 20 rebounds during a four-year college career at Prairie View A&M University, where he also was a two-time National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) All-American in 1960 and ’62. Beaty guided Prairie View A&M to the 1962 NAIA national title, where he was named the Chuck Taylor Tournament Most Valuable Player.

And it was at Prairie View A&M where Beaty met his future wife.

Zelmo Beaty #31 of the Utah Stars drives to the basket against the Kentucky Colonels during an ABA game circa 1970 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Zelmo Beaty #31 of the Utah Stars drives to the basket against the Kentucky Colonels during an ABA game circa 1970 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

NBA Photo Library/NBAE via Getty Images

“When he got drafted by the Hawks and when they gave him his bonus money, that’s when he got me a ring,’’ Annie Marie Beaty said. “After he graduated and was drafted, about six months later we got married … we were married 50-plus years.’’

Annie Marie Beaty will be part of the contingent representing Beaty at the Basketball Hall of Fame. Lenny Wilkens, a Hall of Famer himself who played with Beaty from 1962 to 1968, will give Beaty’s induction speech.

“It’s an extreme honor, because I’m sure if he were here he would really enjoy this,’’ she said. “This would have been a highlight for him, so for us it’s an extreme honor. He would just be beside himself.’’

Beaty’s entrance into the Hall of Fame also makes a strong statement for historically black colleges and universities — particularly from the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC). Up to now, the only other person from a SWAC school to be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player is Willis Reed. A Grambling State University product, Reed was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.

Wise, meanwhile, is just grateful for the time Beaty taught him how to conduct himself on and off the court as a professional athlete. “He took me under his wings,’’ Wise said. “He would tell me things like, ‘You can be just like Elgin Baylor.’

“And then he would talk about Oscar Robertson and Dave DeBusschere and all these players, and I would just listen and he would fill me full of knowledge on how to be a successful professional and an effective professional. And right up until his death, we were still very close.’’

Dwain Price is a veteran beat writer for the Dallas Mavericks.