In a joint statement, the Washington Wizards and the family of Wes Unseld announced his passing on Tuesday. He was 74.
“It is with profound sadness that we share that our adored husband, father and grandfather Wes Unseld passed away peacefully this morning surrounded by family following lengthy health battles, most recently with pneumonia,” the statement said. “He was the rock of our family—an extremely devoted patriarch who reveled in being with his wife, children, friends and teammates. 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.”
After playing for the Washington Bullets (now the Wizards) from 1968 to 1981, Unseld was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988. Over the course of his career, he led the Bullets to four NBA Finals appearances and played a pivotal role in the franchise’s only NBA title in 1978. A five-time All-Star, he’s one of two players in NBA history (the other is Wilt Chamberlain) to be named league MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season. Despite not playing in decades, he remains the 12th-leading rebounder in the history of the NBA with a jaw-dropping 13,769 career boards.
“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.”
Former NBA star Rex Chapman was one of several members of the NBA community to offer his condolences on social media.
“Wes Unseld was one of the finest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. He was my friend, my Kentucky homeboy, and my coach. Heartbreaking,” he tweeted. “The gentlest of giants.”
He is survived by his daughter Kim, son Wes, daughter-in-law Evelyn, grandchildren Layla and Wes, and his wife of 50 years, Connie.