Baltimore Bullets All-Star forward and Washington Bullets ex-head coach, Wes Unseld, passed away at 74. Unseld also worked in the front office as general manager of the Washington Wizards.
Unseld is known as one of two players in NBA history to win the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season. The other rookie to win MVP? Wilt Chamberlin.
“Wes Unseld was one of the most consequential players of his era,” said NBA commissioner Adam Silver in a statement. “An NBA MVP and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, Wes elevated the game by mastering the fundamentals. His competitive drive and selfless approach made him a beloved teammate, a respected opponent and a cornerstone of the Washington Wizards franchise, with whom he won an NBA championship.”
As an under-sized big man at 6-foot-7, Unseld, held his own ground against Bill Russell and Chamberlin. Unseld still managed to secure a double-double in career averages. After 13 seasons, Unseld retired averaging 14.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game.
In 1996, Unseld earned a spot as a member of the NBA’s Top 50 All-Time team.
Wes Unseld was one of the finest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. He was my friend, my Kentucky homeboy, and my coach. Heartbreaking.
The gentlest of giants.
Rest, Wes.🏀❤️🌎 pic.twitter.com/5ZSj1zVRQh
— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) June 2, 2020
Louisville > Baltimore/DC
Unseld grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. He earned Parade All-American honors as one of the top high school players in 1964.
Despite a scholarship offer to play for Adolph Rupp at Kentucky, Unseld played his collegiate ball at Louisville. Over his three-year career, he averaged 20.6 points and 18.9 rebounds.
Unseld sat out as a freshman at a time when the NCAA prohibited freshman from playing on the “varsity” squad. On the Louisville freshman squad in 1965, Unseld destroyed the competition. He led the frosh team with 36 points and 24 rebounds per game.
The Baltimore Bullets selected Unseld with the second pick in the 1968 NBA Draft. Elvin Hayes went #1 that year.
The Kentucky Colonels, from the ABA, also drafted Unseld. Instead of sticking around his hometown of Louisville, Unseld opted for the NBA over the ABA.
Baltimore Bullets > Capital Bullets > Washington Bullets > Wizards
Unseld is one of the greatest players from the Washington Wizards franchise, that began as the Baltimore Bullets.
Unseld crushed the boards during his rookie season. He averaged 13.8 points and 18.2 rebounds per game. The NBA named him the 1969 Rookie of the Year. He also earned MVP honors that season as well.
Unseld led the Bullets to a championship in 1978. He also earned NBA Finals MVP that season.
Unseld played with the Bullets before and after the team migrated from Baltimore to the nation’s capital.
During the 1973-74 season, and its first year in DC, they were known as the Capital Bullets. The next season, the team changed their name to the Washington Bullets.
During Unseld’s first years as general manager of the Washington Bullets, the team changed their name to the Washington Wizards.
Wes Unseld: Coach > GM
Unseld spent seven seasons coaching the Washington Bullets during the team’s lowest years. He amassed a 202-345 record and guided the team to only one postseason berth.
After seven seasons on the sidelines, Unseld pivoted to the front office. He took over as general manager for the Bullets. He spent seven seasons as general manager of the Wizards before he moved on.
In total, Unseld spent 27 seasons with the Bullets/Wizards in some capacity as a player, coach, and general manager.
In 1988, Unseld earned a unanimous nod to the Basketball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
“I never played pretty, Unseld said during his induction speech. “I wasn’t flashy. My contributions were in the things most people don’t notice. They weren’t in high scoring or dunking or behind-the-back passes.”
“Wes also set the model of class, integrity and professionalism for the entire NBA family during stints as a player, coach and team executive with Washington and through his dedication to expanding educational opportunities for children,” added Silver.