When the Wizards and Cavaliers play on Wednesday night in Cleveland, roaming the sidelines will be two head coaches whose friendship goes back decades and is rooted in the golden age of the Wizards/Bullets franchise.
Wes Unseld Jr., who coaches the Wizards, and J.B. Bickerstaff, who coaches the Cavs, first met thanks to their fathers who were each part of the franchise's lone championship team in 1978. Wes Unseld Sr. was the Bullets' best player, while Bernie Bickerstaff was an assistant coach on Dick Motta's staff.
"We first got to know each other as really small children playing around the Capital Centre family room," Unseld Jr. said.
Both Wes Unseld Sr. and Bernie Bickerstaff would later serve as head coaches in Washington. Unseld Sr. remained connected to the franchise into the 2000s, also working in the front office as an executive. While in the front office, he hired Bernie to be the team's head coach in 1996.
Bernie still works in the NBA as a scout, while Unseld Sr. passed away last year. The two sons remain friends and have been in each other's corners throughout their coaching careers.
They rose through the assistant ranks before J.B. got his first head coaching gig in 2017 with the Grizzlies and later took over in Cleveland in 2019. Unseld Jr. was hired as a first-time head coach by the Wizards this past summer.
"It means a lot. We’ve been close for decades and to see him get the opportunity two years ago was extremely exciting. It’s one of those things that feels surreal at times because we’ve had different paths to this point," Unseld Jr. said.
"When he got the opportunity, of course you’re pulling for him. When I got this opportunity, he reached out right away. We’re happy to see each other get the opportunities that we have. We’re pulling for each other, obviously not tonight."