Byron Beck

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Byron Beck

Postby rlee » Sun Jan 31, 2010 5:03 am

Byron Beck

By Irv Moss
The Denver Post

Byron Beck, who starred at the University of Denver before playing in the ABA and NBA, was hooked on the hook shot. (Denver Post file photo)
The passing of time isn't in Byron Beck's favor when discussing the best players who have worn a professional basketball uniform in Denver.

Most of today's Nuggets fans probably don't know or remember that the modern era of professional basketball in Denver began with Beck and the ABA's Denver Rockets in the 1967-68 season.

After a change in ownership, the franchise became known as the Nuggets for the 1974-75 season. The Nuggets began playing in the NBA in the 1976-77 season.

During his 10-year pro career, all in Denver, Beck was one of the franchise's most popular players. He was known for a sweeping hook shot and intense yet humble play on the court. He was the first player signed by the Rockets and the first to have his uniform, No. 40, retired by the Nuggets.

"I learned the hook shot from my mother," Beck said, noting she was contacted to play for women's teams in her day, but never did. "She was the best competition for me growing up. I became a pretty good house cleaner because I'd have to help with that before we'd go outside to practice basketball."

Beck's memories of the early days of the ABA tell of a basketball life far from today's lifestyle and opulence.

"Training camp always was a real tussle," Beck said. "There always were a lot of players brought in, and it was kind of shoot and duck to make the team."

Beck talked as a pioneer with notches in his belt when telling of road trips while riding in an airplane named "The Blue Goose" or playing against the New York Nets in a minor-league hockey facility in Commack, N.Y. The players wore their topcoats on the bench to stay warm, and the basket at one end wasn't square with the floor.

"On one trip back from New York, I think I followed the same car out of the airplane window all the way across the country," Beck said.

The flight was about eight hours, including a stop to refuel in Kansas City, Mo.

Beck averaged 11.5 points per game for the Rockets and Nuggets while shooting 50.5 percent from the field in 747 games, including 53 games in 1976- 77, the first season after the ABA-NBA merger.

The most sinister thing Beck did on the basketball court was jostle Dan Issel after some contact under the Denver basket. Issel was playing for the Kentucky Colonels at the time, but he became a teammate in Denver a few weeks later.

"I regretted it later, but I got excited a few times during my playing days," Beck said. "I heard that I was called 'Boom-boom' by some players around the leagues and was on the all-hatchet team my year in the NBA."

Denver was the 6-foot-9 Beck's basketball home. He played for coach Troy Bledsoe at the University of Denver, then was under the direction of Bob Bass, John McClendon, Joe Belmont, Stan Albeck, Alex Hannum and Larry Brown in the pros. Doug Moe was an assistant coach with the Nuggets during Brown's tenure.

"I played against Larry Brown, played on the same team with Larry and he coached me," Beck said. "He elevated my intensity as a player and took me to another level."

Beck almost didn't play basketball. He dreamed of being a shortstop and playing major-league baseball.

"I didn't like wearing the basketball uniform shorts," said Beck, noting he always was the tallest in his class. "One of my high school coaches told me I wasn't playing for myself or the coaches, but I was playing for the people who supported the team. He said to stay focused and I'd be all right."

After his playing days, Beck stayed in Denver until 1979, when he moved his family back to his roots in the Pacific Northwest. He's in charge of security at a large company in the Tri-City area in southern Washington.

His advice to young basketball players: All players should master the hook shot and have it in their shot selection.
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