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.
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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