Wes Unseld: A Tribute to the Greatest Outlet Passer
The sports world suffered another heavy loss at the beginning of June. Wes Unseld, a Washington Bullets legend and basketball Hall of Famer, passed away due to health complications, most recently a battle to pneumonia. While the whole league and fanbase are saddened by the loss of another pioneer of the game, we would be remiss to not remember the great man that was so successful in the league and helped make the league as big as it is today. Without further adieu, let’s delve into why his number 41 has been retired in Washington since 1981.
Remembering the Great Wes Unseld
Wes Unseld’s Underappreciated Resume
To say Wes Unseld is one of the most overlooked NBA legends of all time would be an understatement. Despite playing in an era that was dominated by the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Walt Frazier, Pete Maravich, John Havlicek, Rick Barry, and even his frontcourt partner, Elvin Hayes, he racked up an impressive amount of accolades. Unseld is one of just two players in NBA history to win the MVP in his rookie season alongside Wilt Chamberlain.
Not to mention, he also boasts five All-Star appearances, a title, a rebounding title, a Finals MVP, Rookie of the Year, and finally, a Hall of Famer. Unseld also had double figures in total rebounding in all but one of his seasons during his illustrious career. He even averaged an impressive total of 18.2 rebounds per game in his rookie season. Not to mention, he was the first African-American athlete to be offered a scholarship by Adolph Rupp to the University of Kentucky. Say what you will about the era he played in. Not many players can come close to the achievements Wes Unseld got during his career.
What Wes Unseld Meant to the Game
As alluded to already, Wes Unseld was one of the first great big men in NBA history. Many mention Wilt the Stilt or Bill Russell in terms of the first true great centers, and they should, but Unseld deserves a lot more credit. He helped revolutionize the outlet pass and was a big inspiration for Kevin Love. An All-Star big who is widely considered the best outlet passer today (Love’s middle name is also Wesley, named after Unseld considering Stan Love as a teammate on the Baltimore Bullets.)
Many consider Unseld the greatest outlet passer of all time and for good reason. Without him, the game of basketball may not put an emphasis on a facet of fast-break basketball today. Not to mention, Unseld was one of the first premier rebounders of the league. He currently ranks 12th on the all-time rebounding list with 13,769.
Without Wes Unseld, the Washington Bullets, or the Wizards as they are named today, may not even exist today. Led by Wes Unseld and fellow Hall of Famer, Elvin Hayes, the Bullets would make four NBA Finals appearances and winning a title over the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1977-78 season. Unseld helped put Washington on the map as a legitimate basketball destination. Many of his peers have also given him high praise.
Willis Reed is on the record for saying “when you played Wes Unseld, he abused your body.” On top of that, Rick Barry has likened him to a bigger version of Charles Barkley and Kareem Adbul-Jabbar has recently given him praise saying “he was only like 6’7, 6’8, but you still couldn’t get rebounds over him.” As one can see, the NBA has lost a true pioneer to the game.
Saying Goodbye to a Great Player and a Great Person
For everything, Unseld accomplished on the court, he was also a superstar in his everyday life. He was a husband, father, and grandfather who was adored very much. Another thing that should be brought up is how he has helped enriched youth in Baltimore with his school. As a result, both the NBA world and the community of the country are grieving during this tough time. Wes Unseld led a fulfilling life and his loss is a void that will never be able to be filled.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images