By Sean Yoes
AFRO Baltimore Editor
Wes Unseld was one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history and a world champion with the Washington Bullets. But, he was also known as a man of great integrity, who became a vital community leader in his adopted hometown of Baltimore. Unseld died today from pneumonia according to his family. He was 74.
“It is with profound sadness that we share that our adored husband, father and grandfather Wes Unseld passed away peacefully this morning surrounded by family following lengthy health battles, most recently with pneumonia,” read a statement from the Unseld family.
“He was the rock of our family– an extremely devoted patriarch who revelled 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.”
Known as “The Baby Bull,” Unseld forged a Hall of Fame NBA career with the Baltimore Bullets and then when the franchise moved to Washington, D.C., with a bruising style of play as one of the shortest (at 6’6”) centers in the league.
After his college career ended as a two-time All-American at the University of Louisville, in his hometown, Unseld was drafted by the Baltimore Bullets in 1968. That year he averaged 13.8 points and 18.2 rebounds per game and won both Rookie of the Year and league Most Valuable Player honors. He was only the second player in league history (after Wilt Chamberlain) to garner both distinctions.
Unseld played his entire career with the Bullets, was an NBA All-Star five times, four of those times with the Baltimore Bullets and once after the team moved to D.C. in 1973. He led the Bullets to the playoffs 12 of his 13 years and the team finally captured the NBA championship in 1978, when the team defeated the Seattle Supersonics. Unseld was named the championship series MVP.
Although his opponents at the center position typically towered over him, Unseld often dominated them with his intelligence and extraordinary physical strength. “Sure, I gave away inches [to opponents]. But a bigger factor was determination,” he once told the Baltimore Sun. “If they were more determined, they’d win. But if I were more determined,they’d be hurting.”
After his playing days were over, Unseld went on to become a vice-president, then a coach and later a general manager of the Bullets.
Later, Unseld solidified his role as a community leader in Baltimore, the city he fell in love with. He and his beloved wife Connie opened the Unselds’ School in Southwest Baltimore, on South Hilton Street. The co educational private school has been in operation for more than three decades, nurturing children from nursery school to middle school. The school has been an institutional anchor in that Southwest Baltimore community for decades.
In addition to his wife Connie, Unseld is survived by his daughter Kim, his son Wes Jr., who is an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets, a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.