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Utah Stars great Zelmo Beaty dies
First Published Sep 08 2013 04:45 pm • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:33 pm

Zelmo Beaty, a dominating center who led the Utah Stars to the ABA championship in 1971, has died.

Beaty had been battling cancer for four years. He passed away Saturday at the age of 73, according to the Atlanta Hawks, his first professional team.

At a glance

Zelmo Beaty » 1939-2013

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"He was a terrific player," said former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who played against Beaty as a member of the Chicago Bulls.

"Zelmo was big and strong and nasty ­— the kind of guy you wanted on your team."

Sloan remembered playing the Hawks once during the 1968-69 season when a Beaty elbow cost Tom Boerwinkle, Chicago’s rookie center, "about 10 teeth."

Sloan laughed and said, "It was unintentional, I think. Welcome to the NBA."

Beaty was born in Hillister, Texas, a tiny town north and east of Houston. He attended Prairie View A&M.

The Hawks, located in St. Louis at the time, selected Beaty with the No. 3 overall pick in the 1962 NBA draft. He spent seven seasons with the team before jumping to the Stars of the rival ABA in 1970.

During his first year in Utah, Beaty averaged 22.9 points and 15.7 rebounds. The Stars defeated the Kentucky Colonels, 4-3, in the ABA Finals. Beaty was named the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs.

The Stars made it back to the ABA Finals in 1974, but they were beaten by the New York Nets and their young superstar, Julius Erving.

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In a long-ago story for the RememberTheABA.com website, former Indiana Pacer coach Bob "Slick" Leonard praised Beaty.

"Zelmo could flat play," he said. "If you went to war against him, you better pack a lunch because you knew your team was always going to be in a battle with him. And you knew you were going to be there awhile. He wasn’t going to hide. ...

"He was a banger. He was not only physically tough, but mentally tough, too. At the same time, he played the game with dignity and grace. His play demanded respect."

One of the most popular professional athletes to ever play in Utah, Beaty spent a total of four seasons with the Stars. After the franchise folded, he returned to the NBA for one season with the Los Angeles Lakers before retiring in 1975.

Beaty finished his career with combined NBA and ABA totals of 15,207 points and 9,665 rebounds.

Tim Howells, a devoted fan of the Stars who later became the Utah Jazz’s general manager, recalled Beaty as a centerpiece of a great era in the state’s basketball history.

"My memories of Zelmo were of a player with tremendous integrity … a lot of class, a real gentleman," Howells said. "He just seemed to be very comfortable with himself, and he had every reason to be, in my opinion."

As a player, Beaty was "very, very smart and got the maximum out of his talents," Howells said.

In retirement, Beaty briefly worked as a TV and radio analyst for the Utah Jazz.

In his Sunday blog on nba.com, Steve Aschburner remembered Beaty as a down-to-earth star who took the time to answer mail from a young admirer:

"I wrote Beaty a fan letter without ever seeing him play a game. And Beaty … wrote back. A couple of times, sending along his autograph each time."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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