Wes Unseld

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Tim Legler remembers hero, friend and former colleague Wes Unseld

Tim Legler remembers hero, friend and former colleague Wes Unseld

Former Bullets player Tim Legler has felt the impact Wes Unseld made on basketball and this world in a variety of ways.

He grew up a Bullets fan, spending his early years split between Richmond, VA and Baltimore, MD. He later became an NBA player and spent four seasons in Washington where Unseld ran the front office. And through their working relationship, they became long-time friends, staying in touch over the years.

Legler joined the 'Wizards Talk' podcast for an upcoming episode to share memories of Unseld, who passed away this week at the age of 74.

"I remember going to my very first basketball camp when I was 12 years old. I had a t-shirt that I got and I dyed it Bullets colors and I put Unseld on the back of it," he said.

"One of the very first times I remember crying over a sporting event was when the Bullets lost to the Supersonices in the [NBA Finals]. It broke my heart. Now, here you are on charted flights with this guy, you're on buses with him, you're at practice with him, you're getting a chance to know him on a human level. Honestly man, I was pinching myself."

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Legler knew Unseld the player as an enforcer who was as feared as anyone who played during his era of the 1970s. But as Legler got to know the Hall of Famer personally, he realized there was much more to him than the tough exterior.

"The thing I will always remember about Wes Unseld is that to me he is epitome of what you would label a gentle giant because he was a mountain of a man. He's one of the strongest physical specimens that has ever stepped on the floor and an NBA court," Legler said.

"But he had the biggest heart. He was a kind man, he was a respectful person. He always treated me and my family great, and every other person I saw Wes Unseld come in contact with. So he went beyond whether you regarded him as a basketball player or basketball executive."

Legler added he was deeply affected by Unseld's passing. Though Unseld's health had declined in recent years, it took him by surprise when he saw the news.

"It was a gut-punch, no doubt," he said. "It takes your breath away for a second because immediately you are transported back to that time."

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Wes Unseld's legacy extended beyond the basketball court

Wes Unseld's legacy extended beyond the basketball court

As a child of the 70’s, The OG’s around the neighborhood often talked about Wes Unseld.

Chiseled body, tough defender, rebounding extraordinaire. 

So as you can imagine the first time I got to meet the man, it was a little intimidating for sure.

When the first handshake happen, that only validated my fear. It hurt, and I must admit as a grown man that’s an odd feeling.

Wes was a gentle giant and the face of the Bullets/Wizards organization.

From player to executive to coach to general manager. Wes touched all levels of the organization for over five decades.

But let us go back to the beginning. His first NBA game in 1968 for the Baltimore Bullets he grabbed 22 rebounds against the Detroit Pistons. This from a man who stood 6 foot 7 inches, among NBA giants during a time in the game were names like Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell towered over the game.

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Unseld’s stoic demeanor on the basketball court only masked his true gentle nature. 

I can recall the first time I met Wes, I was doing an alumni interview with him during a pregame show at the arena.

I saw him approaching the set and thought to myself, don’t say anything stupid just ask your questions and don’t look like a fan.

And then...he shook my hand.

He laughed, because I tried to not act like my hand felt crushed by the force of his power.

Time after time after that first encounter, Wes knew he had me once he extended his hand. And of course each time, I knew my hand would hurt for a time, but it was worth it because if Wes liked you he would tease you, and I got that feeling from him often.

As I reflect on his legacy, it starts with leadership, even after his rookie year with the Baltimore Bullets, Wes earned Rookie of the Year and MVP honors, guiding the Bullets to 57 wins, a 21-game improvement from the season prior.

Away from basketball, Wes was extremely gracious with his time and resources for the folks in Baltimore. He and his wife Connie were involved in elementary education. The couple carried through Connie's vision of building a school in Charm City. A private school to serve kids from preschool to fifth grade. 

Husband, father, teammate, champion.

Once a Bullet, always a Bullet. 

Thank you Wes.

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Wes Unseld's former Bullets teammates say his off-court work was more impressive than his NBA career

Wes Unseld's former Bullets teammates say his off-court work was more impressive than his NBA career

The unfortunate news of NBA legend Wes Unseld's passing on Tuesday brought two of his former teammates onto the Wizards Talk podcast with Chris Miller to tell stories and share memories of the most accomplished player in Wizards/Bullets franchise history.

Phil Chenier and Bobby Dandridge were both members of the 1978 Bullets team that won the NBA championship. Chenier played with Unseld for nine seasons, while Dandridge knew him both as a teammate and rival. They each spoke glowingly about the larger-than-life character that Unseld was and shared tales of him battling other greats of his time like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

But the part of Unseld's life they kept coming back to was his decades-long work running a private school in southwest Baltimore, MD. Unseld and his wife, Connie, started a private school called the Unselds School that still operates today.

"His contribution to the Baltimore community, the education and development of kids were greater than any rebound or shot that he ever made," Dandridge said. "They have developed many young kids in the inner city parts of Baltimore."

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“A guy willing to do anything for the people around him that he loved, respected, been around, played with," Chenier added. "[Connie] is so proud of that school and she said Wes is equally as proud. Wes evidentally was like the jack of all trades over there. He was the janitor, the security person, the maintenance man; he did it all. And he did it proudly and humbly, and I think it speaks to the character."

The Unselds School has been operating since the late 1970s and continues to give resources to kids in an area that lacks them. His work in that area has clearly impressed his peers just as much as his Hall of Fame basketball career did.

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