When Phil Chenier's No. 45 jersey is raised to the rafters at Capital One Arena on March 23, there will be a lot of emotions for those who have followed his career. There will be a unique sense of pride for his former Bullets teammates who know how integral he was to the franchise's success in the 1970s.
Hall of Famer Wes Unseld, for one, thinks it's not only well-deserved but that it is probably overdue.
"It's about damn time, to be honest with you," he said in an interview with NBC Sports Washington's Julie Donaldson. "I thought it should have been up there a long time ago. This guy was instrumental in a lot of the success this organization has had over the years."
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Chenier and Unseld played nine seasons together with the organization, first in Baltimore and then representing Washington, D.C. Unseld recalls Chenier, a three-time All-Star, as a gifted player on both ends of the court. Many remember Chenier for his shooting abilities and the fact he consistently averaged 20-plus points per game, but Unseld wants everyone to remember the defense as well.
"He was the total player," Unseld said. "He could get into you defensively."
Unseld first met Chenier when he had already made a name for himself and Chenier had yet to set foot on campus of the University of California. It was in San Francisco and Unseld was stopping through on his way to Japan.
They played together in a scrimmage and Chenier was just in high school.
"They brought this little kid out on the court who looked like he was in the sixth grade. I thought, man, this little kid could play," Unseld said.
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It was just four years after that when Chenier joined Unseld on the Bullets as a selection in the hardship draft. Chenier made an instant impact and earned All-Rookie honors for the 1971-72 season.
Unseld still saw Chenier as a kid playing well beyond his years.
"When he came to the team, he looked so young. I remember a few of the older guys said they had to protect this guy because he could carry us. He could give us something that we really needed. We couldn't allow him to get beat up or hurt," Unseld said.
There was one time in particular where Unseld remembers he had to look out for Chenier. They were playing against Walt Bellamy, another NBA Hall of Famer who had previously played for the Bullets. Bellamy would stick his knee out on screens and caught Chenier a few times with the trick.
Chenier was furious and told Unseld in the huddle. Unseld made sure it didn't happen again.
"I sure as hell didn't want him hurting Phil at that time. We needed him," Unseld said. "I just wanted to make sure that if Walt stuck another knee out then it was something we would have to deal with."
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Unseld saw Chenier grow up as a basketball player and as a man. He is now thrilled to know that Chenier's jersey will be hanging up along with his and that Chenier will finally get this day he has so long deserved.
Chenier will have many close ones on hand for the ceremony including his kids, grandchildren and longtime friends. Unseld hopes they and all the Wizards fans out there understand how good Chenier truly was.
"It just shows them visually and it tells the rest of the Washingtonian people that they recognize that [Phil] was a pretty damn good player," he said.
Chenier's jersey retirement will take place at halftime on March 23 when the Wizards host the Denver Nuggets.
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You can listen to Wes Unseld's full interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast right here: