Zelmo Beaty: The Butler Did It, 1973

[Here’s a brief, but very good, overview of Zelmo Beaty starting to wind down his pr basketball career with the ABA Utah Stars. The byline belongs to Dan Pattison, who covered the ABA religiously for the Deseret News in Salt Lake. This blog hasn’t posted a lot on the Big Z, so I thought this article from the February 3, 1973 issue of The Sporting News would be a good way to offer a little more credit where it is do. Beaty always was a class act, though he was a tough guy inside the paint with his stray elbows, knees, and hips directed at unwanted intruders.] 


When Zelmo Beaty hangs ‘em up, he doesn’t expect to be remembered or mentioned in the. same breathe as the Chamberlains, Russells, Reeds, and Jabbars of professional basketball. Beaty has been playing in their shadows, so why should things change when he retires? But he would like to be remembered as a winner.

“I feel winning is the most important thing, period,” asserted Beaty. “People will know who you are if you’re a winner. And that’s how I would like to be remembered.”

And for 10 pro years (seven years in the NBA and three in the ABA), Big Z has been exactly that—a winner! Nobody can knock his record. He never has been on a club which finished out of the playoffs.

The St. Louis-Atlanta Hawks of the NBA never finished lower than third with Big Z in the pivot, and that happened only once [Note: Not sure what Pattison means here]. The last three years with the ABA’s Utah Stars, he led the club to a league championship and a Western Division playoff title. 

The Big Z (l) fires away on big Jim Chones.

So, it’s easy to see why his Stars’ teammates nicknamed him the Franchise. The 6-feet-8 ½, 225-pound center is a workman who tests the very best. He is not spectacular. 

The fact that his hairline has been retreating for the better part of a decade hasn’t fooled anyone. Like wine, Big Z gets better with age. He gets wiser, and as teammate James Jones puts it, “Beaty has a Ph.D. in basketball knowledge.”

Beaty isn’t the type who swoops into the air and returns from another planet. No, Big Z is the type who never makes a serious tactical mistake. He doesn’t waste motion on the spectacular. Writer Jim O’Brien described Beaty as a “player who moves about the court like a snobbish butler, but works like a laborer under the boards.”  

Beaty has undergone surgery on both knees, played despite an arthritic ankle, and has participated in more than 180 straight games. “I’ve always felt I would have to be dying or in a cast or unable to help the club before I wouldn’t be in the lineup,” offered Beaty. “And the way I look at it, I’m playing with guys who are also hurting and, if they’re playing, why can’t I?”

Big Z recently went over the 15,000-point mark and, by the end of the season, he will be the No. 12 rebounder on the all-time list when he cracks the 10,000 mark.

Beaty has come a long way since his collegiate days at Prairie View A&M. He was the No. 1 draft choice of the St. Louis Hawks in 1962. He always knew he could rebound (he holds the NAIA tournament mark of 94 rebounds).

As a pro, Zelmo started slowly as a scorer, averaging only 10.2 points in his first season with the Hawks, but he progressively developed until he hit for an average of 21.5 in the 1967-68 campaign, after the Hawks had moved to Atlanta.

Dissatisfied with his salary situation, Beaty then sat out his option season before jumping to the ABA. “The Stars were the first club to offer what I thought I deserved as a player,” he said. Reportedly, he signed a four-year contract for a total of $650,000.

With the Stars, his feats have included scoring 63 points in one game for a club record. “I feel that I’ve done much better than I anticipated . . . especially in scoring,” Beaty said. “When I came into the pros, I wasn’t a good shooter. I developed my jump shot, which has been responsible for most of my scoring in the pros.

“I considered most of the centers in the NBA pretty smart,” he continued. “It was never a muscle game with Bill Russell like it was with Wilt Chamberlain. It was muscling every night with Wilt. And at that time, he was going to the hoop, which gave me another responsibility—to stop him.

“In the ABA, guys like Mel Daniels and Artis Gilmore have enough talent to play in either league. There’s no confining their talent. I think guys like Bill Paultz and Randy Denton are coming along. And they’re big. Really, it’s becoming almost like the NBA, where I’m facing bigger guys every night.”

After the Stars started slowly this season, losing nine of 11, there were echoes around the ABA that Beaty was finished, that the offseason knee surgery had affected his game, “We didn’t have a long training period, and I didn’t use my knee at all during the summer,” Big Z said. “It was almost like going into stiff competition without any pressure put on it. It disturbed me because my knee was bothering me.

“I didn’t think I was jumping or getting to the ball quickly. But now I feel I’m playing as I can play. I’m doing the same job that I was doing last year.”

But people come to take Beaty for granted. He is expected, whenever he gets within five feet of the basket, to get a layup. He is expected to dominate the pivot area, stop others from driving, block shots, and get the rebounds.

What some people don’t take into account is the terrific pounding Beaty gives and takes to get his close-in goals. But the Franchise has been an inspiration for his teammates. They figure if he’s going to battle night after night to be a winner, they will, too. It has paid off.

Beaty has been a leader on a winning club. So, Utah will keep plugging away in search of another ABA championship.

So will Zelmo Beaty. After 10 years, he’s used to it.

Beaty (r) swats at Indiana’s Mel Daniels.

[As a special Beaty bonus, let’s hand the keyboard back to Dan Pattison. Let him mark the occasion—Monday, February 21, 1972—that the Big Z zapped the Pittsburgh Condors for 63 points in the old Salt Palace. Here is Pattison’s call for the Desert News that ran the following day.]

Dallas coach Tom Nissalke was quoted earlier in the season, “I think every player on the Utah Stars should have gone up after the playoffs last year and shook Zelmo Beaty’s hand and told him thanks. Without him, they never would have won the ABA title.”

Well, Nissalke, in a way the Stars did Monday night at the Salt Palace. They paid a tribute to their big teammate. And the 9,023 fans got into the act. 

The Stars defeated Pittsburgh, 149-140, but that was almost a forgotten fact behind Beaty’s ABA single-game scoring record of 63 points. It broke the ABA mark set by Stew Johnson, who is now with Carolina. Johnson, while playing for Pittsburgh, scored 62 points against the Floridians, March 6, 1971.

With 5:27 left in the game, Beaty got a standing ovation when he took a pass from Willie Wise to break the Stars’ club record with his 45th point. The crowd never let up, and neither did his teammates after that. 

His teammates realized that he had a chance to break the ABA scoring mark. They started looking for him. “He deserved the record, not Stew,” offered James Jones with a big grin. “And we wanted the ‘Big Fella’ to have it.”

By the time Big Z had scored his 53rd point at 4:26 on a pass from Glenn Combs, he had hit 21-of-26 field goal attempts. He scored 10 points in the last 1:34, and when he got his record with 17 seconds remaining, Stars’ president-general manager Vince Boryla hurdled the press table to give him the game ball. 

Pittsburgh’s Goose Ligon wasn’t about to defense Beaty, when the latter had a chance to score the record-breaking basket. Ligon folded his arms and let Beaty have his bucket. Beaty would have gotten it anyway. There was no stopping him.

“You can’t score that many points without teammates helping you out like that,” said Beaty, who never lost his poise or dignity throughout the drama-packed contest. “I think I scored 14 points off my rebounding. But the rest I got from the guys.

“I doubt that it will last long,” he continued, as beads of sweat ran down his forehead and his brow. “Records are made it to be broken. I didn’t think I was ever going to get past 47 points again. I wish my shooting would switch and be that good in the [higher-stakes] Kentucky game [tonight].

“You really don’t know about a thing like this. On this club, there are some great shooters, and we don’t concentrate on just one guy getting the points. But tonight, guys just passed up shots to give it to me.”

Beaty, in a way, was being modest, too. When everyone was going to him, he still passed off. For example, with 4:04 left, he passed the ball to Wise, who scored to put Utah in front, 136-122.

Beaty also set six new club records while going over 12,000 points for regular-season scoring. The only other player in the ABA to go over 12,000 points is New York’s Rick Barry on December 12.

Big Z’s 63 points broke the old club mark of 47 held jointly by George Lehmann, Larry Miller, and Beaty; his 24 field goals broke the record of 17 held by Miller and himself; his 31 field-goal attempts snap the previous mark of 28 held by Ron Boone and Miller; free-throw percentage, 100 percent (15-of-15) ties a mark set by Mack Calvin; most points in the second half, 39, and most points in a quarter, 25, are Utah Stars club records. The franchise [Los Angeles/Utah] record is 27 held by Lehmann. 

What is forgotten is the fact that the Stars needed Big Z’s effort to offset Pittsburgh’s George Thompson’s 45 points. Even though the Stars shot so well, the Condors were always in the game.

One thought on “Zelmo Beaty: The Butler Did It, 1973

  1. ”The St. Louis-Atlanta Hawks of the NBA never finished lower than third with Big Z in the pivot, and that happened only once.”
    Maybe he wanted to say that after Hawks moving to St.Louis,this team only finished lower than third place once(1961-1962).


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