NBA legend Wes Unseld died at the age of 74, the Unseld family and the Washington Wizards announced in a joint statement on Tuesday. Named as one of the NBA‘s original 50 greatest players, Unseld is one of the most beloved figures in NBA history. He spent his entire 13-year career with the Bullets organization (Baltimore/Capital/Washington), winning a championship and being named Finals MVP in 1978.
Below is the statement from the Unseld family:
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. 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 legacy lives on in the family he treasured — his daughter Kim, son Wes, daughter-in-law Evelyn, grandchildren Layla and Wes, and the love of his life for 50 years, his wife Connie — and in the community of the Unselds’ school, where the entire family contributed to enriching the lives of Baltimore’s youth.
We would like to thank everyone who knew and loved him, personally and professionally, for their support during this loss. We will share information in the near future about how we will celebrate Wes’ incredible life.
Unseld, who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988, led the Bullets to four NBA Finals appearances, and he’s one of just two players in NBA history to win league MVP as a rookie. The other is Wilt Chamberlain. After a standout three-year collegiate career at Louisville, Unseld was drafted No. 2 overall by the Bullets in 1968. Today, he ranks as the 12th-leading rebounder in NBA history with 13,769 career boards.
Listen to anyone who played with or against Unseld talk, and you’ll know he was one of the toughest, most physical players in history. When Willis Reed introduced Unseld at his Hall of Fame enshrinement, he said “when you played against Wes Unseld, he abused your body.” Fellow Hall of Famer Rick Barry once called Unseld a “bigger version of Charles Barkley,” noting that Unseld “got as much out of what he had talent-wise as any player who ever played the game.”
“He was a tremendous family man, fantastic mentor and friend,” Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard told CBS Sports. “Everything he did was with integrity and for the benefit of all. Very sad day.”
Unseld’s rebounding prowess gave way to legendary outlet passes, a combination that would routinely result in Unseld firing near full-court chest passes to sprinting teammates ahead of the pack for a layup. It’s fitting that Unseld is the godfather of Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star Kevin Love, a legendary outlet passer himself. Love, in fact, was given the middle name “Wesley” in honor of Unseld, who was a teammate of Love’s father, Stan Love, with the Baltimore Bullets.
After retiring as a player in 1981, Unseld remained in the Bullets’ organization for the next 20 seasons — six as vice president, seven as coach, and seven more as general manager. His No. 41 jersey has been retired in Washington since 1981.