100 in 100: Craven County’s Walt Bellamy, Basketball Hall of Famer

After starring at Indiana, the New Bern native was NBA Rookie of the Year in 1962 and a four-time All-Star

Walt Bellamy, left, a rookie with the Chicago Packers in 1962, is pictured with Wilt Chamberlain. (AP Photo)

North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.

Craven County

Walt Bellamy

If Bellamy was a top basketball recruit coming out of J.T. Barber High School in New Bern today, there’s a good chance he’d choose to play at North Carolina, Duke, NC State or another ACC school. But that wasn’t an option in 1957. So rather than staying close to home and playing at a Historically Black College, the 6-foot-11 center left to play at Indiana.

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“Indiana at the time was the closest school to the South that would accept African-Americans,” Bellamy told the Bloomington Herald-Times prior to his death in 2013. “It was an easy transition for me to make. Not that I was naive to what was going on in Bloomington in terms of the times, but it didn’t translate to the athletic department or the classroom.”

Walt Bellamy is pictured in 1968 when he was playing for the New York Knicks. (AP Photo)

North Carolina’s loss was Indiana’s gain as Bellamy went on to have one of the best careers in the Hoosiers’ storied history. He averaged 20.6 points per game and shot 51.7 percent in his three varsity seasons. His 1,087 rebounds were the most in school history at the time of his graduation, and his average of 17.8 boards per game as a senior is still an Indiana record.

In addition to being a two-time All-American, he was named a member of the Hoosiers’ All-Century team in 2000. In his final college game, Bellamy set school and Big Ten marks with 33 rebounds, to go along with 28 points, in a win against rival Michigan.

After winning a gold medal as a member of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team, he became the first overall pick in the 1961 NBA Draft — beginning a 14-year professional career that saw him win Rookie of the Year honors in 1962, get selected to four All-Star Games, score 20,941 points and earn induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.