Wes Unseld, the workmanlike Hall of Fame center who led Washington to its only NBA championship and was chosen one of the 50 greatest players in league history, died Tuesday after a series of health issues, most recently pneumonia. He was 74.
Unseld’s family announced his death via a statement released by the Washington Wizards, the franchise he was with throughout his entire 13-season playing career and also worked for as a coach and general manager.
“Those of us who were fortunate enough to spend time with Wes knew him as a generous and thoughtful man whose strong will was matched only by his passion and drive for uplifting others,” current Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard said. “His physical prowess, undeniable talent and on-court demeanor may have struck fear in opponents throughout the NBA, but he will be remembered best as a mentor, leader and friend.”
A five-time All-Star and, along with Wilt Chamberlain, one of only two players to win NBA Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in the same season, Unseld instantly made the team then known as the Baltimore Bullets into a winner after he was taken with the No. 2 overall pick — behind future teammate Elvin Hayes — in the 1968 draft.
Wes Unseld took a leave of absence from the Wizards for undisclosed health reasons in 2003, ending 35 years of continuous service to the franchise. He had both knees replaced in October of that year and afterward appeared at games only occasionally.
Wes Unseld is survived by his wife, Connie, daughter Kim, son Wes Unseld Jr., and two grandchildren. Wes Jr. is an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets.
Funeral arrangements were pending.
“He was the rock of our family — an extremely devoted patriarch who reveled in being with his wife, children, friends and teammates,” the family’s statement said. “He was our hero and loved playing and working around the game of basketball for the cities of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., cities he proudly wore on his chest for so many years.”