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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Former Utah Stars greats Zelmo Beaty, left, and Willie Wise hold an ABA ball that was signed by the 1971 champs.
That championship means everything to me. We had such great fans and support. —Zelmo Beaty, fomer Utah Stars center

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Zelmo Beaty, who led the Utah Stars to the state’s only professional basketball championship in 1971, has passed away at the age of 73.

Beaty, known as “The Big Z,” was named Most Valuable Player of the American Basketball Association finals that year. The Stars defeated the Kentucky Colonels in seven games to win the title, clinching the championship with a 131-121 victory in the Salt Palace on May 18, 1971.

Beaty had 36 points and 16 rebounds in the final game and was carried off the floor by celebrating fans along with teammate Willie Wise.

In 2001, on the 30th anniversary of the accomplishment, Beaty reflected on how special it was.

"That championship means everything to me. We had such great fans and support,” Beaty told the Deseret News. “When they carried Willie Wise and me off the court after we won the championship game with Kentucky, it was breathtaking for me. I had never had anything like that happened to me before, and I never did again."

Beaty, a 6-foot-9 center from Prairie View A&M, played for the Stars from 1970-74, averaging 19.1 points and 11.6 rebounds.

Prior to signing with the ABA, Beaty was a first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Hawks and played for the organization from 1962-69. He was forced to sit out a season when switching leagues. After his stint in Utah, Beaty played one season for the Los Angeles Lakers.

With more than 889 professional games, Beaty averaged 17.1 points and 10.9 rebounds.

Twitter: @DirkFacer