When the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Wizards on Saturday night, the game will feature a deeper connection than just two Eastern Conference rivals.
Wes Unseld Jr. and Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff have been friends for as long as they can remember. So long, in fact, that neither of them can pinpoint a time when their relationship officially started.
“Honestly, I can’t remember a time [when we officially met]. We’ve always connected,” Bickerstaff said in an interview both coaches held with NBC Sports Washington's Wizards Insider Chris Miller. “Our families have always been connected with our time from the Bullets, and it was always like we were a part of each other’s family.”
Wes Unseld Sr. was one of the Bullets’ best players during their 1978 championship run—a team in which Bernie Bickerstaff served as an assistant coach. Both their sons went on to rise in the basketball ranks, eventually, each becoming an NBA head coach.
“There wasn’t one time where we showed up and it was like, ‘Hey I’m J.B., I’m Wes.’ We’ve known each other forever and that’s all I really remember,” Bickerstaff said.
Earlier this season in their first matchup as head coaches, Washington walked away with a narrow road victory 97-94. That game was one of what turned out to be many in which Kyle Kuzma’s clutch shooting saved the game for the Wizards.
“The family connection was there,” Wes Unseld Jr. said. “It was not a distinct moment when you could say, ‘Hey, that’s when it happened.’ We stayed connected…I wound up scouting a game that J.B. was playing in, and that’s kinda how we reconnected again in an unofficial capacity and stayed connected since.”
Since that first matchup in November, the two sides have played each other twice with each team snagging one win. Unseld Jr., 46, and Bickerstaff, 42, share a bond that transcends the hardwood.
“It’s bigger than basketball,” Bickerstaff said. “There’s certainly relationships you have that, no matter where you are, if you’re put back in the same room with that person, you never miss a beat. To me, it’s more of a family feel than it is a friendship.”
You can catch Chris Miller's sitdown interview with Unseld Jr. and Bickerstaff as part of NBC Sports Washington's coverage of Wizards at Cavaliers. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday on NBC Sports Washington.