Former Washington Bullets player and coach Wes Unseld died Tuesday morning, according to his family. He was 74.
The family said in a statement that Unseld had lengthy health issues, most recently with pneumonia.
“He was the rock of our family — an extremely devoted patriarch who reveled in being with his wife, children, friends and teammates,” the family 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.”
Statement from the family of Wes Unseld.
Rest easy, Wes ♥️ pic.twitter.com/NwEtuofgG9
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) June 2, 2020
Unseld was a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee after playing for the Bullets franchise from 1968 to 1981. He spent his first five seasons with the Bullets in Baltimore, followed by eight seasons in Washington. He was part of the franchise’s only NBA title, in 1978, when he was named Finals MVP after the Bullets defeated the Seattle SuperSonics in seven games.
He won the regular-season MVP award in 1969 and was a five-time All-Star. Unseld and Wilt Chamberlain (1960) are the only players in NBA history to win Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in the same season.
“Wes Unseld was one of the most consequential players of his era,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “An NBA MVP and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, Wes elevated the game by mastering the fundamentals. His competitive drive and selfless approach made him a beloved teammate, a respected opponent and a cornerstone of the Washington Wizards franchise, with whom he won an NBA championship. Wes also set the model of class, integrity and professionalism for the entire NBA family during stints as a player, coach and team executive with Washington and through his dedication to expanding educational opportunities for children.”
“Wes was truly a gentle giant,” said Phil Chenier, who played nine seasons with Unseld. “His scowl could be intimidating, but really he was a kind, thoughtful and protective comrade. Wes is the epitome of a great teammate, team leader and friend.”
Current Wizards star Bradley Beal and Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love — whose middle name, Wesley, is after Unseld — paid tribute on social media. Love’s father, Stan, played with Unseld on the Bullets.
RIP WES UNSELD! 😢
BULLETS LEGEND forever.
— Bradley Beal (@RealDealBeal23) June 2, 2020
Listed at 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, Unseld overcame taller players and bad knees with a strong work ethic and lots of grunt work in the paint. He was a tenacious rebounder and strong passer. Unseld’s 13,769 career rebounds are the most by a player 6-8 or shorter, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Unseld was a two-time All-American at Louisville. He averaged 20.6 points and 18.9 rebounds over his career with the Cardinals, earning him the prime draft spot right behind No. 1 selection — and future Bullets teammate — Elvin Hayes.
“I lost a great friend and teammate this morning who went home to Christ,” Hayes said. “Know we all had great love for both you and your family always, my friend.”
In the NBA, Unseld averaged 10.8 points and 14 rebounds for his career.
In 1981, Unseld’s No. 41 became the Washington franchise’s first number to be retired.
Unseld remained with the franchise after his playing career. He initially worked in Washington’s front office, then was head coach for nearly seven seasons from 1987 to 1994, compiling a 202-345 record with one playoff appearance. He also had a seven-year stint as general manager from 1996 to 2003, when the team made one other trip to the playoffs.
Funeral arrangements were pending.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.