NBA 75 Series: #54 Wes Unseld
Updated: Feb 21, 2022
Ranked #54 in my 75 Greatest NBA Players of All Time https://www.djssportsshow.com/post/nba-75-greatest-players-of-all-time is the pioneer of the outlet pass to initiate a fastbreak in the great Wes Unseld. Westley Sissley Unseld was born on March 14, 1946, in Louisville, Kentucky to Charles and Cornelia Unseld, and passed away on June 2, 2020, in Maryland. His father was a prizefighter, construction worker, and oilman, while also being a baseball player for the Indianapolis Clowns.
Unseld would attend Seneca High School in Kentucky and would go on to star for the team and help lead them to back-to-back state championships in 1963 and 1964. Unseld would be recruited by over 100 colleges and was the first African-American athlete to be offered an athletic scholarship to the University of Kentucky.
Unseld would eventually choose the University of Louisville to play for the Cardinals where he would go on to have a freshman season for the ages where he averaged 35.8 points and 23.6 rebounds over 14 games. In his collegiate career, he compiled 1,686 points, good for a 20.6 average and grabbed 1,551 rebounds (18.9 per game) across the next three years of his career. He led his team to the NIT tournament in 1966 and NCAA tournament in 1967 & 1968 while also being named an NCAA All-American in those years. He led the Missouri Valley Conference in rebounds for all three years of his eligibility, which was a sign of things to come in the NBA.
Unseld would eventually get selected second overall in the 1968 NBA Draft by the Washington Bullets and would quickly turn around the direction of the franchise by leading them to a 57-25 record and the division title.
Ultimately, Unseld was a 6-foot-7 bull built from a block of granite, boasting toughness, laser-beam outlet passes, and relentless pursuit of crashing the boards. He and Wilt Chamberlain are the only players to ever win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season, as Unseld did in 1968-69. He helped lead the Bullets to four finals appearances, alongside Elvin Hayes to form a fearsome frontcourt duo and wound up winning the 1978 title over the Sonics in seven games, ultimately winning Finals MVP.
He has the most rebounds in franchise history (13,769) and was the most feared screener of his time, hearing opponents yell “Ah!” whenever they ran into him during a screen. Unseld was intelligent on and off the court, and over the course of his career he came to personify the virtues of hard work, dedication, and courage. He became a five-time All-Star, All-NBA First team selection, and led the league in rebounding (1975).
He would be named to the 50th and 75th anniversary teams and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988.