Arguably the greatest player to ever wear a Washington jersey, Wes Unseld, passed away peacefully on Wednesday (Manila). He was 74.
According to his family's statement via the Wizards, the legendary NBA big man succumbed to "lengthy health battles, most recently with pneumonia." Players like Wiz guard Bradley Beal and Cavs forward Kevin Love, whose father Stan was Unseld's teammate, remembered Wes and his contributions to the game.
The Hall of Famer was the epitome of a silent, hard worker during his time with the only team that he played for. Even after his playing days, he joined the front offices of the Bullets, and then Wizards.
Here, as our fitting farewell, is Unsweld's career by the numbers:
1st (African-American to be offered an athletic scholarship)
After leading Seneca High School to back-to-back Kentucky state championships, the Louisville native was said to have been recruited by over a hundred colleges. He made history with an athletic scholarship offer from no less than the Kentucky Wildcats. Unseld turned them down to join his hometown University of Louisville and average an otherworldly 35.8 points and 23.6 rebounds in 14 games as a freshman.
2nd (rookie MVP)
The two-time NCAA All-American didn't go unnoticed, as the Baltimore Bullets and Kentucky Colonels both selected him second overall in the 1968 NBA and ABA drafts, respectively. Unseld chose to sign with the Bullets and instantly turned the team around. Baltimore went from being at the bottom of the East in the previous season with a 36-46 record to having the best win total in the league (57-25) and the division title.
For his franchise-altering first year (13.8 markers and career-high 18.2 boards per game), he was named both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player — the second player since Wilt Chamberlain to do so.
30 (career-high in points and rebounds)
Unseld's best individual performances say a lot about his blue-collar style of play. During his career season in scoring (16.2 ppg in 1969-70), the sophomore was just the Bullets' fifth option on offense. His impact on the glass is a different matter altogether. He was a runner-up in rebounding to either Chamberlain or Elvin Hayes in each of his first four years — 18.2, 16.7, 16.9, 17.6 rpg — before finally claiming the title in 1974-75 (14.8).
The second half of Unseld's career saw him embracing an even lesser offensive role — averaged double figures once in his last seven seasons — to focus on what the team needed him to do more of.
While sustaining his rebounding prowess, he showcased another underrated facet of his game. He had at least four dimes per outing from 1974-80, highlighted by a 5.2 assist average in 1975-76.
By the time Unseld called it a career, he finished sixth in all-time leaders for rebounds per game with 13.99.
41 (years since Wiz won 50)
A decade after entering the NBA, the five-time All-Star won basketball's biggest prize. Unseld averaged 9.4 ppg and 12.0 rpg in a full seven-game series against the Seattle Supersonics on his way to being hailed Finals MVP.
In the 1978-79 season, the Bullets would post their last 50-win record (54-28) but eventually lost to the Sonics this time around. More than four decades later, Washington has yet to do it again.
The Wizards came closest to a 50-piece in 2016-17, when John Wall and Co. won 49 as the No. 4 seed in the East.
Perhaps the most impressive stat on his resume is that Unseld did all of this despite relatively lacking in stature. One could say he's the OG undersized center. And it wasn't like he had to man the middle out of necessity; it was his natural position.
If a player can impose his will when seven-footers like Wilt and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar roam the hardwood, he definitely deserves his place on the list of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
Unseld once told The Washington Post: "I know that night in and night out the guy I play against will have more physical ability. But I feel like if I go out against a guy and play him 40 or 48 minutes a game or whatever, toe to toe, head to head, he is going to get tired or beat up or bored for two or three minutes. That will be enough to make sure he doesn't win the game for his team."
Rest easy, Wes.