Former Baltimore/Washington Bullets legend Wes Unseld has passed away. The Hall-of-Fame center, who spent 13 seasons in the NBA, was 74 years old.
“On behalf of the Wizards organization and the entire MSE Family, I would like to extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the Unseld family, including his wife Connie, daughter Kimberly, son Wes Jr. and his two grandchildren as well as his large number of extended family and friends,” said Chairman & CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment Ted Leonsis (via the team’s website).
“We all admired Wes as the pillar of this franchise for so long, but it was his work off the court that will truly leave an impactful legacy and live on through the many people he touched and influenced throughout his life of basketball and beyond.”
Unseld spent 13 years with the franchise. The 6’7″ center helped lead the club to 12 postseason appearances and one NBA title, which is the Bullets/Wizards’ only championship.
“Those of us who were fortunate enough to spend time with Wes knew him as a generous and thoughtful man whose strong will was matched only by his passion and drive for uplifting others,” said Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard. “His physical prowess, undeniable talent and on-court demeanor may have struck fear in opponents throughout the NBA but he will be remembered best as a mentor, leader and friend.”
Wes Unseld’s NBA Career
Unseld played at the University of Louisville where he established himself as a premier center in the college ranks. He was selected No. 2 overall in the 1968 NBA Draft by the Baltimore Bullets.
In 1969, as a rookie, he helped lead the Bullets to a division title despite the fact that the franchise had been in last place during the prior year. He won the league’s Rookie of the Year award and MVP award that season, becoming just the second player to accomplish both feats in the same season (Wilt Chamberlain).
Unseld led the franchise to its only NBA title in 1978. The Bullets took down the Seattle SuperSonics and the center was named Finals MVP. Unseld was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988. His No. 41 is one of just five jerseys retired by the Bullets/Wizards franchise.
Unseld moved into the Bullets’ front office upon retiring from the league in 1981. He began by serving as the vice president of the franchise. Later, he would take over as the team’s head coach, directing a team that had started the 1987-88 season with a record of 8-19 and bringing them to the postseason after going 30-25 on the year.
Unseld remained the coach until 1994. He won 202 games with the franchise, which is the second-most in the club’s history. He returned to the front office in 1996 and served as the GM until 2003, including one year with Michael Jordan leading the charge.
“Wes was a true champion whose contributions in the Baltimore and Washington communities will affect generations,” said Executive Director of the Bullets & Wizards Alumni Association Bobby Dandridge, per the team’s official website.
Unseld’s accomplishments aren’t just tied to basketball. He and his wife, Connie, opened the Unseld School in Baltimore in 1978. According to the Wizards’ website, it’s one of the few fuly-accredited black-owned non-church-affiliated elementary schools in Maryland.
“Robert, Jim and I are heartbroken,” said Irene Pollin. “Since 1968, Wes was the broad shoulders upon which our team was built, and his Hall of Fame career and the championship that he helped bring our city speaks for itself. But for us, the loss of Wes is more than that. He and the Unselds are family to us, and when you lose a family member – especially a beloved figure like Wes – the sorrow is unfathomable. We extend our prayers to Connie, Kim, Wes, Jr. and the entire Unseld family. We love you and we loved Wes with all of our hearts.”
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