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Wes Unseld, legendary center for Baltimore Bullets, dies at 74

Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Football

"I thought, 'Holy s -- -.' It made me want to knuckle down."

His first three years, Unseld led the Bullets in field-goal percentage. He remains the franchise leader in rebounds (13,769) and assists (3,822). Toughest in the playoffs, he had 34 rebounds in a victory over the New York Knicks in the 1970 Eastern Division semifinals. One year later, his block of a Bill Bradley shot with three seconds remaining preserved a 93-91 win over the rival Knicks and sent the Bullets to the NBA finals for the first time, where they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Unseld's strength was legend, Scott said:

"We'd fool around and wrestle in practice, and once Wes picked up LeRoy Ellis, a 6-11 center, and held him over his head. It's a strong man's game, but never in his career was there a player stronger on the court than Wes.

"We played in an era where the guy closest to the basket had the best shot and that was generally the center. So, on defense, Wes said, 'If I can move this guy two feet out from his normal position, it'll throw him off and I've won the battle.' And night after night, guys like Chamberlain, Elvin Hayes and Nate Thurmond would take that jump shot from just a little bit farther than where they were comfortable."

"I lost a great friend and teammate this morning who went home to Christ," said Hayes, Unseld's Bullets teammate for 10 seasons, in a statement Tuesday. "Know we all had great love for both you and your family always my friend."

 

Unseld measured success not by size but strength of mind.

"Sure, I gave away inches (to opponents)," he told The Sun. "But a bigger factor was determination. If they were more determined, they'd win. But if I were more determined, they'd be hurting."

Bullets guard Kevin Loughery called Unseld "a rebounding savant" and marveled at the power and precision of the outlet passes of one who suffered from chronic knee problems.

"His hand strength was unbelievable," Loughery said. "His first day of practice, Wes bet me he could grab a rebound, turn, throw the ball the length of the court and hit the backboard before his feet hit the floor. 'No way,' I said. Boom, he did it."

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