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Catching Up With: Wes Unseld

Each week in the Toy Department, veteran Sun sports writer Mike Klingamen will track down a former local sports figure and let you know what's going on in their lives in a segment called "Catching Up With..."

Ran into Wes Unseld the other day. The Basketball Hall of Famer they called "The Baby Bull" was coming out of – where else? – a meat market near his home in Westminster.

Having turned 63 two weeks ago, he’s still the big galoot who put the Baltimore Bullets on the map 40 years ago. His first season in the pros (1968-69), Unseld took the Bullets from worst-to-first while winning both Rookie-of-the-Year and MVP honors. Only one other basketball player, Wilt Chamberlain, has ever done that.

Oh, the fun we kids had that year in the Civic Center, scarfing cheap weiners and whooping with every rebound the 6-foot-6 Unseld grabbed against taller centers – and every fast break he started with those crisp outlet passes. How he managed to outmuscle the Chamberlains, Russells and Reeds of the league was a mystery.

What was the secret, Wes?

"I was country-strong," he said. "I didn’t lift weights or work on some Nautilus machine. I grew up in Kentucky, carrying block and brick in construction work with my dad."

Nowadays, Unseld operates a private school in West Baltimore with his wife, Connie. There, the five-time NBA all-star does everything from typing memos to cutting the grass to teaching youngsters how to bake bread. The man once dubbed "Wes Unselfish" is still a team player.

On weekends, he said, "I dilly dally in photography and woodworking. Got a wood shop at the house."

What does Unseld make?

"My wife calls it ‘expensive kindling,’ " he said, then paused. "I think she’s right."

He still follows the Washington Wizards (nee Bullets), the team he later coached and helped run, as well as the University of Louisville, his alma mater.

"Could I have played center today? Why not?" Unseld said. "The guys I played against – Chamberlain, (Kareem Abdul) Jabbar, (Nate) Thurmond – were taller than these guys they’ve got now. The difference is, basketball is more a game of specialty than in the past. Used to be that you had to do everything pretty well – dribble, shoot and play defense. Now, if you’re just a great shooter, you’re a star."

In Unseld’s neighborhood, his house is the one with no hoop in the driveway. The old Bullet, who has had one ankle fused and both knees replaced, hasn’t played pick-up ball in 20 years.

"The game was good to me," he said, "but it almost killed me, too."

 

 

Comments

Wes was the man! I went to grade school with his 2 kids. Wes would come to the parties & tell us stories of how he was able to defend players so much taller than him. He said that he would step on Jabbar's foot as he jumped off for his sky hook, pull the hairs out of his legs when they were fighting for position -- whatever it took to get under his skin. As a young boy, he was definitely a great guy to be around & his kids were class acts. Not surprising to hear he is working at a school.

Next year in the NBA you just might see Wes the 2nd. No joke. 6-8 245 squeekie clean and Wes' clone. Baltimore's own Rookie in Europe. Like Wes when he gets behind you, he can't be moved. A pure rebounding machine. Put Wes, Barkley and him in in a box, shake it up and who ever comes out will be equal. You'll see. Baltimore kid.

Wes Unseld is definitely my favorite NBA player of all time. I was hoping that the photograph with this entry would've been from 1972 or 1973, when the Bullets still called Baltimore home and they wore what will always be the greatest basketball uniforms in the history of mankind.

I ran into Wes at the S Hanover Walmart yesterday and spoke to him for a few minutes. He was as modest and soft-spoken as ever, and genuinely surprised that someone remembered him. I called him Mr. Unseldt and he corrected me, "My name is Wes, my father is Mr. Unseldt." It was such a lovely moment. He's a real gentleman.

Curt Motton

Benny Ayala

I remember a couple of occassions I was walking on the west side of memorial Stadium before Orioles games and I noticed Wes was walking toward me and I said hello to him. He was nice enough to stop and shook my hand and stand there to talk to me for a few minutes. Not only was he a consumate professional on the basketball court but off the court also. He is what a perfect role model should be. A great player on the court and a great person off as well.

i was a major fan of unseld back then,i pattered my jump shot after his.yep over here detroit,he had a real fan,my friends use to back then we even looked a like,big fro,i was a big guy sorta.ok peace tonyjoe

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