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Remembering The Great Wes Unseld

June 4, 2020

Let’s just say in almost every big game the great Wes Unseld, who died this week, too young at age 74, played, I was on “his side.”

He was the most important player on Baltimore/Washington/Capital Bullets teams, that had a period of sustained excellence from (1969-1979), highlighted by winning the ’78 crown.

There were defeats, three in other NBA final series, one expected vs the last year of Lew Alcindor (next year he was Kareem Abdul Jabbar), who stood close to a foot taller than Wes and others in ’75 vs Rick Barry and Golden State and ’79 vs Denis Johnson and Seattle, in which the Bullets were either favored or had home advantage.

Wes Unseld was the epitome of determination, never more evident than his “return shot/offensive rebound” basket for the final points in the Bullets’ two point win vs the big series favorite Philadelphia 76ers, that clinched the ’78 “semis” in 6 games.

That and the subsequent title series win vs Seattle, dedicated to the Bullets’ director of public relations, Marc Splaver, who died so young (29 years) that year, was our win.

Those days, the NBA semis were not shown on television, not even on delayed tape (now I wish the NBA would just go away and certainly hope they do not contest, what would be distorted playoffs) so I listened to Bullets’ broadcaster Frank Herzog, lying on the floor, so my ear would be next to the stereo speaker.

It was “important” that Wes, the Bullets and me, so often denied, would win this one. Unseld’s play and that of Bob Dandridge, who as Thomas Boswell wrote in his Washington Post tribute to Wes, outplayed (Julius) Erving, led the victory.

The title win vs Seattle was not as important to me, but I was on the “ride.”

Fourteen years later, I was in L.A. to attend the Sunday game, which was highlighted by the retirement of Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s #32.

Two days earlier, I saw the bus transporting the Bullets, coached by Wes Unseld, moving slowly out of the (L.A.) Forum.

I got in the bus and said to Wes, how great it and he were–the outlet pass, rookie/year and MVP in the same season (only Wilt Chamberlain and he have ever accomplished that), his rebounding and the ’78 title.

He smiled and we both knew to “hang in there,” during the tough times, until we get on that “final bus.”

Wes is on it now, leaving much good behind and with the blessings of so many, as he goes.

 

Wes Unseld 1975.jpeg

Wes Unseld, pictured above. I believe that is Phil Chenier, a member of the ’78 title team, #45, in the backround.

 

Perhaps appropriate to good NBA memories, “The Who” perform “Magic Bus.”

 

 

 

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2 Comments
  1. Excellent tribute to an excellent player. I was a Knicks fan but really respected Wes Unseld. To me, those Knicks teams with Willis Reed and Dave DeBusschere and the Bullets teams of Wes Unseld and Gus Johnson were the NBA at its best.

  2. First off, I commented on your page regarding your excellent, detailed posts.

    Thanks for your kind words. You are so right about that time in the NBA and specifically the Knicks/Bullets rivalry. Add Earl Monroe and Jack Marin vs Walt Frazier and Bill Bradley. The Bucks, Bulls, Lakers and Celtics were all contenders.

    Wes and the Bullets, similar to the baseball Royals got their title “after” but thankfully with him still on the team. They won 3 best of 7 series sans home court advantage, certainly a rarity.

    Your “details” have inspired me. Thank you again.

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