Wizards, NBA mourn passing of Wes Unseld
The Washington Wizards mourn the passing of franchise and NBA legend Wes Unseld. Universally considered the greatest player in franchise history, Unseld led the then-Bullets to the NBA Championship in 1978. He 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. “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 was drafted by the Baltimore Bullets with the second overall pick in 1968 out of Louisville, where he finished his senior season as a consensus All-American selection. In his first season in Baltimore in 1968-69, Unseld turned the Bullets around by leading them to 21 more victories than the year prior and the team’s first ever playoff appearance. His 13.8 point, 18.2 rebound per game averages in his first season earned him Rookie of the Year and MVP Honors, making him just one of two players in league history (along with Wilt Chamberlain) to win both awards in the same season.
“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.”
The 6-7 center was the rock of the Bullets’ success in the 70’s, spending his entire 13-year career with the team. Unseld helped lead Baltimore to five consecutive playoff appearances and continued the streak when the team moved to Washington in 1973. In all, the Bullets would make 12 straight playoff appearances during his career, including four Finals trips and the franchise’s championship run in 1978, when they defeated the Seattle Supersonics in seven games to take the ring. Unseld was voted Finals MVP, averaging 9.0 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists during the championship series.
“Wes was truly a gentle giant,” said Phil Chenier. “His scowl could be intimidating but really he was a kind, thoughtful and protective comrade. Wes is the epitome of a great teammate, team leader and friend.”
A five-time All-Star selection, Unseld appeared in a franchise-record 984 games, averaging 10.8 points, 14.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists over his career. Despite being undersized at the center position, Unseld was known for his relentlessness in the paint and bruising nature, as well as his outlet passing and screening ability. He was inducted into The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1988 and was voted as a top 50 player in league history in 1996. Unseld’s number 41 jersey was retired in 1981 and is currently one of five jerseys hanging in the rafters at Capital One Arena.
“I lost a great friend and teammate this morning who went home to Christ,” said Elvin Hayes. “Know we all had great love for both you and your family always my friend.”
Following his retirement in 1981, Unseld immediately moved into a front office role with the Bullets, first serving as vice president of the team from 1981-87. In 1988, Unseld took over as head coach, leading an 8-19 team to a 30-25 finish and trip to the playoffs. Unseld coached until 1994, winning 202 games – the second-most by a coach in franchise history. Unseld returned to a front office position in 1996, serving as General Manager until 2003 (excluding a brief one-year stint as Michael Jordan took over the duties).
“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.
Unseld’s career and accomplishments span off the court as well, as he and his wife, Connie, opened the Unselds’ School in Baltimore in 1978. The school is one of the few fully-accredited, black-owned, non-church-affiliated elementary schools in Maryland, with Connie serving as the principal, his daughter, Kim, serving as one of the primary teachers at the school, and Wes occasionally serving as the bus driver. Unseld’s son, Wes Unseld Jr., currently serves as the lead assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets.
"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."
At this time, the family would appreciate privacy as they navigate this difficult loss. In lieu of flowers, we ask that donations be made to the Unselds' School using this link.