The NBA lost a legend this morning. Wes Unseld passed away at the age of 74, according to a statement prepared by his family.
“He was the rock of our family — an extremely devoted patriarch who reveled in being with his wife, children, friends and teammates. 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,” his family said.
Statement from the family of Wes Unseld.— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) June 2, 2020
Rest easy, Wes ♥️ pic.twitter.com/NwEtuofgG9
Unseld racked up a bevy of accolades during his 13-year career with the Bullets organization. At just 22 years old, Unseld became one of only two players to win Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year simultaneously at the conclusion of the 1968-69 campaign. Over the ensuing years, Unseld would appear in five all-star games, lead the league in rebounding and field goal percentage, and captain the Bullets to four NBA Finals during the 1970s.
The Bullets won their only title in franchise history with Unseld on the roster in 1978:
Unseld played center his entire career, despite being an undersized 6-foot-7. Never a 20 point per game scorer, Unseld nevertheless left his mark on the game via defense, rebounding, and the “little things.” Unseld is fondly remembered for his bone-shaking screens and pinpoint outlet passes.
His teammates also respected Unseld’s basketball savvy and ability to make those around him better.
“Playing alongside Wes for four years I grew to appreciate his talents even more. He could ‘read’ everything. Know just when to throw that full-court pass, when to pick and roll, when to set a screen,” NBA veteran Mike Riordan said to the Baltimore Sun on April 5, 1981. “The true benchmark of a great player is when he makes everyone else on the floor play better, and that’s what Unseld did. To me, he was always the underdog, basketball’s ‘Everyman.’”
Unseld’s impact extended beyond the basketball court. The Baltimore Evening Sun made note of Unseld’s “deep humanitarian streak” in June 2, 1989 edition, and that humanitarianism was evident in his actions. Unseld won the 1975 NBA citizenship award and founded a private school in Baltimore in 1979. NBA.com describes the school’s importance to the community:
The Unselds’ School, a coed private school for kindergarten through eighth-grade students, as well as a daycare and nursery school, in southwest Baltimore. The school, for which Unseld worked occasionally as a bus driver, is one of the few fully-accredited, black-owned, non-church-affiliated elementary schools in Maryland. Over 40 years later, the school continues to serve as a place of learning and development in an underserved region of the city. Connie, a former teacher, serves as principal while their daughter, Kim, works as a teacher at the school.
Blazer’s Edge sends its condolences to Unseld’s family and friends.