Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Wes Unseld, NBA Rookie of Year and MVP in 1969, Dies at 74
gvw_ap_news
By Associated Press
Published 4 years ago on
June 2, 2020

Share

WASHINGTON — Wes Unseld, the workmanlike Hall of Fame center who led Washington to its only NBA championship and was chosen one of the 50 greatest players in league history, died Tuesday after a series of health issues, most recently pneumonia. He was 74.

Photo of Wes Unseld in 1979
FILE – In this Jan . 30, 1979, file photo, Wes Unseld of the Washington Bullets takes in an offensive rebound against John Drew (22) of the Atlanta Hawks during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Landover, Md. (AP File)
Unseld’s family announced his death via a statement released by the Washington Wizards, the franchise he was with throughout his entire 13-season playing career and also worked for as a coach and general manager.
“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,” current Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard said. “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.”
A five-time All-Star and, along with Wilt Chamberlain, one of only two players to win NBA Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in the same season, Unseld instantly made the team then known as the Baltimore Bullets into a winner after he was taken with the No. 2 overall pick — behind future teammate Elvin Hayes — in the 1968 draft.
A decade later, Unseld was the MVP of the 1978 NBA Finals as the Bullets beat the Seattle SuperSonics in a seven-game series best known for Washington coach Dick Motta’s proclamation: “The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”
Listed at 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, Unseld overcame taller players and bad knees with a strong work ethic and lots of grunt work in the paint. He was a tenacious rebounder and strong passer.
Unseld was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988, his first year of eligibility.
“I never played pretty,” Unseld said on the day he was elected. “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.”
Wesley Sissel Unseld was born March 14, 1946, in Louisville, Kentucky, where he won two state championship at Seneca High School and then stayed home for college, attending the University of Louisville.
He averaged 20.6 points and 18.9 rebounds over his four years with the Cardinals.
Photo of Wes Unseld and his wife in 1978
FILE – In this June 12, 1978, file photo, Wes Unseld and his wife Connie hold the keys to their new Thunderbird, presented to him by Sport magazine in New York. Unseld, the workmanlike Hall of Fame center who led Washington to its only NBA championship and was chosen one of the 50 greatest players in league history, died Tuesday, June 2, 2020, after a series of health issues, most recently pneumonia. He was 74. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler, File)

‘He Was the Rock of Our Family’

In the NBA, Unseld averaged 10.8 points and 14 rebounds for his career.
His aching knees forced Unseld to stop playing in 1981, but he remained with the franchise that would eventually retire his No. 41 jersey.
“We all admired Wes as the pillar of this franchise for so long,” Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said, “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 initially worked in Washington’s front office, then was head coach for nearly seven seasons from 1987-94, compiling a 202-345 record with one playoff appearance. He also had a seven-year stint as general manager from 1996-03, when the team made one other trip to the playoffs.
After the club’s then-owner, Abe Pollin, died in 2009, Unseld said: “I have no doubt that he kept me longer in positions than he should have — and longer than I wanted him to. He was loyal.”
Pollin’s widow, Irene, said Tuesday: “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.”
Unseld took a leave of absence from the Wizards for undisclosed health reasons in 2003, ending 35 years of continuous service to the franchise. He had both knees replaced in October of that year and afterward appeared at games only occasionally.
Unseld is survived by his wife, Connie, daughter Kim, son Wes Unseld Jr., and two grandchildren. Wes Jr. is an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets.
Funeral arrangements were pending.
“He was the rock of our family — an extremely devoted patriarch who reveled in being with his wife, children, friends and teammates,” the family’s statement said. “He was our hero and loved playing and working around the game of basketball for the cities of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., cities he proudly wore on his chest for so many years.”

RELATED TOPICS:

# NBA

DON'T MISS

Biden Backs House’s Aid Package for Ukraine, Israel While Speaker Johnson Battles to Retain Position

DON'T MISS

Hot Rod Willys: Driven to Bake the Perfect Chicago-Style Pizza

DON'T MISS

Local Leaders Must Put Their Shoulders Into Making Fresno ‘Education City USA’

DON'T MISS

EdSource Welcomes Fresno News Veteran Jim Boren to Its Board

DON'T MISS

Senate Dismissed Two Articles of Impeachment, Ending Trial on Mayorkas

DON'T MISS

Netanyahu Dismisses Calls for Restraint, Says Israel Will Decide Iran Attack Response

DON'T MISS

New Study Calculates Climate Change’s Economic Bite Will Hit About $38 Trillion a Year by 2049

DON'T MISS

Biden Pledges to Block Japanese Takeover of US Steel and Promises Tariffs on Chinese Steel

DON'T MISS

Don Arax Talks About His New Football Job at Visalia’s Central Valley Christian

DON'T MISS

Dem House Challengers Salas, Gray Flex Fundraising Muscle

UP NEXT

Career-High Strike Outs for Ryan Weathers as Marlins Best Giants 6-3

UP NEXT

LeBron’s Lakers Top Pelicans in Play-in, Set up Playoff Rematch With Nuggets

UP NEXT

Mookie Betts Matches Career Best with 5 Hits in Dodgers’ 6-2 Victory Over Nationals

UP NEXT

Klay Thompson Misses All 10 Shots in Potential Last Game With the Warriors

UP NEXT

NBA Bans Jontay Porter for Life After Probe Shows He Bet on Games

UP NEXT

Whitey Herzog, Hall of Fame Manager Who Led Cardinals to 1980s Success, Dies at 92

UP NEXT

Michigan Faces Probation for Football Recruiting Violations; Case vs. Jim Harbaugh Pending

UP NEXT

Parker Wins MLB Debut as Nationals Beat Dodgers on Jackie Robinson Day

UP NEXT

Giants Rally With 3 Runs in 7th to Beat NL-Worst Marlins

UP NEXT

Ken Holtzman, MLB’s Winningest Jewish Pitcher Who Won 3 World Series With A’s, Dies at 78

EdSource Welcomes Fresno News Veteran Jim Boren to Its Board

6 hours ago

Senate Dismissed Two Articles of Impeachment, Ending Trial on Mayorkas

7 hours ago

Netanyahu Dismisses Calls for Restraint, Says Israel Will Decide Iran Attack Response

7 hours ago

New Study Calculates Climate Change’s Economic Bite Will Hit About $38 Trillion a Year by 2049

7 hours ago

Biden Pledges to Block Japanese Takeover of US Steel and Promises Tariffs on Chinese Steel

8 hours ago

Don Arax Talks About His New Football Job at Visalia’s Central Valley Christian

8 hours ago

Dem House Challengers Salas, Gray Flex Fundraising Muscle

10 hours ago

Career-High Strike Outs for Ryan Weathers as Marlins Best Giants 6-3

10 hours ago

LeBron’s Lakers Top Pelicans in Play-in, Set up Playoff Rematch With Nuggets

10 hours ago

Storm Dumps Record Rain and Floods Dubai’s Airport

10 hours ago

Biden Backs House’s Aid Package for Ukraine, Israel While Speaker Johnson Battles to Retain Position

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he strongly supports a proposal from House Speaker Mike Johnson to provide aid to Ukrai...

4 hours ago

4 hours ago

Biden Backs House’s Aid Package for Ukraine, Israel While Speaker Johnson Battles to Retain Position

5 hours ago

Hot Rod Willys: Driven to Bake the Perfect Chicago-Style Pizza

6 hours ago

Local Leaders Must Put Their Shoulders Into Making Fresno ‘Education City USA’

6 hours ago

EdSource Welcomes Fresno News Veteran Jim Boren to Its Board

7 hours ago

Senate Dismissed Two Articles of Impeachment, Ending Trial on Mayorkas

7 hours ago

Netanyahu Dismisses Calls for Restraint, Says Israel Will Decide Iran Attack Response

7 hours ago

New Study Calculates Climate Change’s Economic Bite Will Hit About $38 Trillion a Year by 2049

8 hours ago

Biden Pledges to Block Japanese Takeover of US Steel and Promises Tariffs on Chinese Steel

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend