Wes Unseld leaves important legacy as Wizards/Bullets legend and pillar of community

Chase Hughes
NBC Sports Washington

A true giant in Wizards/Bullets franchise history and in the D.C. and Baltimore communities has left this Earth.

Wes Unseld, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 74, leaves the most decorated legacy of any player in the 59 seasons of Wizards/Bullets basketball. He is a Hall of Famer, league and NBA Finals MVP, rookie of the year, five-time All-Star and All-NBA selection. He led the franchise to their lone NBA championship, in 1978, and was a pillar on four Finals teams in the 1970s.

Unseld also coached in Washington for seven seasons, from 1987 to 1994, including as head coach for six years. And he served in executive front office roles before and after his stint as coach, including as general manager.

As an NBA player, Unseld has a lasting reputation as the most notorious screen-setter in league history. At 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, he was built like a refrigerator and used his wide frame to set powerful picks. 

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There are legendary tales of Unseld knocking opponents down, and even out, with his screens. He would catch players by surprise and meet them with the force and stability of a cinder block wall.

Unseld may also be the best outlet passer in NBA history. He was an all-time great rebounder, ranking 12th in the history books, and would start fastbreaks with crisp passes that covered the entire court.

Current NBA star Kevin Love modeled his outlet passes after Unseld, his godfather and a former teammate of his father, Stan. As Kevin tweeted on Tuesday, his middle name 'Wesley' is a nod to Unseld.

Unseld retired after 13 NBA seasons with many distinctions beyond his screen-setting, passing and rebounding. He is one of only two players in league history to win MVP and rookie of the year in the same season, joining Wilt Chamberlain. He led the Bullets to the playoffs in each of his first 12 seasons. The franchise would later only make the playoffs 12 times in a span of 33 years.

Unseld's No. 41 jersey now hangs in the rafters at Capital One Arena. And his career accolades remain the gold standard for Wizards/Bullets players, now 39 years following his retirement. 

Unseld is the all-time franchise leader in games played, minutes (by over 6,000) and rebounds (by over 4,000). Of the 10-best rebounding seasons in franchise history, he owns six of them, his best year being his MVP season in 1968-69 when he averaged 18.2 per game.

Unseld averaged 10.8 points and 14.0 rebounds in his career, which began with the Bullets in Baltimore and ended in Washington. He was named as one of the 50 greatest NBA players in 1996 during the celebration of the league's 50th anniversary.

Unseld's impact, however, is not only limited to the basketball court. He leaves a lasting legacy in Baltimore, MD where he and his wife, Connie, have run the Unselds School since 1979.

With students from pre-K through eighth grade, many kids have come through the halls in its more than 40 years of existence. The Unselds have helped improve the lives of countless children growing up in an underserved part of the country.

Unseld will be missed, but his contributions to basketball and the community will last for many years to come.

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Wes Unseld leaves important legacy as Wizards/Bullets legend and pillar of community originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

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