Unseld celebrated by teammates, opponents for NBA 75


One of the best big men of all time was honored this past week as part of the NBA’s 75th-year anniversary celebration. Wes Unseld, former Washington Bullet and father of current Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr., was recognized as one of the NBA’s 75 best players of all time.

Over his career, Unseld was one of the most dominant centers in the league. Teammates and opponents alike honored the late legend, who passed away in June of 2020, in a tribute video made by the NBA.

“Wes Unseld was one of those players that probably got as much out of his natural, physical talent as anybody that played the game,” said Rick Barry, eight-time All-Star and fellow member of the NBA 75 team. “What he accomplished—being MVP coming in as a rookie—was pretty remarkable…maybe the best big, short center in the history of the game.”

In 1968, Unseld became just the second NBA player of all time to win Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in the same year, following Wilt Chamberlain who accomplished the feat nine years prior. Unseld stood just 6-foot-7, undersized for centers both in his day and present-day.

One of Unseld’s calling cards was his outlet passing. Pairing with fellow big man Elvin Hayes in Washington, Unseld would routinely snag a rebound and feed a cross-court pass to spring a fast break—one of the primary reasons the Bullets took home the 1978 championship.


“Wes was unique. You know, I never saw anyone make a three-quarter-court, two-handed chest pass on the dime. On the dime,” said Lenny Wilkens, NBA champion whose 16-year playing career saw 38 games vs. Unseld. “He understood the game, knew the game…guys would love playing with him.”

Dave Bing, who played with Unseld in D.C. from 1975-77, said he first got a look at the young phenom when Unseld was still playing at Louisville. He knew right away he was special. Kevin Loughery played with Unseld in Washington from 1968-72 and recalled how his teammate would “grab a rebound and take it and turn in the air, and hit the opposite basket without coming down.” Other former opponents had similar memories.

Unseld himself was featured in the NBA’s commemorative video via archive footage. He told reporters during his playing days, “For 48 minutes, I was gonna do whatever I had to do to you to make sure that you were not gonna be the reason why we lost the game.”

Unseld’s main partner in crime during his time in the nation’s capital was power forward Elvin Hayes. The frontcourt duo terrorized opposing players on a nightly basis. You could argue that Unseld’s rebounding and passing ability had a large role in Hayes still ranking as the league’s 11th-highest scorer of all time.

“A lot of people don’t realize, but Wes had really bad knees,” the former Bullet detailed. “Man, I used to sit in that locker room and watch them draw fluid out of Wes’ knee—and all of a sudden, Wes would go out there, and I’m talkin’ about, he worked. You couldn’t help but give 110% out there with him because he was truly a man.”