Bob Dandridge remembers the late Wes Unseld
From Bob Dandridge, former Bullets guard and 1978 NBA champion...
I first heard of Wes Unseld when I was a sophomore at Norfolk State University and he was an All-American at the University of Louisville. I followed his dominant college career and was inspired when he was selected as the second overall pick by the Baltimore Bullets in the 1968 NBA Draft. As an NBA center, Wes was undersized, but seeing him get drafted let me know that my dream to be in the NBA was a possibility. He was listed as 6'7", and I was 6'6" – even though there was only an inch difference, he was 240 pounds versus my 170 pounds.
Even though Wes did not have the build of a typical NBA center, he flourished playing for the Bullets his rookie season; he won Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player. After the departure of Gus Johnson and Earl Monroe, the Wes Unseld era began.
As an opponent of Wes for eight years, while I was with the Milwaukee Bucks, I had a firsthand look at his furious and competitive battles with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Most of the time, Wes won the rebounding battles. At the time, the Eastern Conference was the toughest division in the NBA.
Even though the conference was tough, his best performances were always against Hall of Famers Willis Reed, Bob McAdoo, Wilt Chamberlin, Dave Cowens, and Bill Russell. Wes was viewed as a physical player who challenged game officials decision-making on what was really a foul. I remember he always used all six of his allowable fouls. His teammates loved the crushing screens he set on opposing defenders.
We became teammates to start the 1977-78 season, the season we won the NBA Championship. Instantly, mutual respect was established between us in training camp with the singular goal of winning the championship that season and sacrificing anything necessary to achieve that goal. Wes hand-picked rookie Greg Ballard as his partner on the road, which was a privilege to be mentored by Wes. His sense of humor was unique, but he could get as funky as anyone when it came to joking. By the way, Wes did call home to his wife Connie and their kids Wes Jr. and Kim each night on the road.
Our regular season record was not great because of injuries but we were fortunate that everyone was starting to get healthy leading up to playoffs. Wes reinjured his knee at the start of playoffs but played through the injuries, injuries that would have definitely sidelined me. Even though he was injured, Wes was motivated by that one goal we set in training camp that season -- to win a championship-- and we did.
After Wes's retirement in 1981, he served as Vice President of the Bullets before being named the Head Coach of the team in 1988. In 1996, he became the team's General Manager. Outside of basketball, Wes was committed to the growth and development of the youth in Baltimore. In 1979, Connie and Wes opened the Unselds' School in southwest Baltimore for children from nursery age to middle school.
As Executive Director of the Alumni Association, it was important to me to have Wes as an active member of our Bullets/Wizards Alumni Association.
Despite adjusting to knee replacement surgery and being the full-time, all-purpose guy at the Unselds' School, he participated in many of our Bullets/Wizards Alumni charity events.
Wes Unseld was as special as they come. He created and set the high standard for what current and future Wizard players should be.