PONTIFICATING FROM THE SUNSHINE STATE – JUNE 2
By Leo Haggerty
WE LOST A GREAT ONE
First of all, and I will start EVERY article with this paragraph, sports pales in comparison with what is occurring with the Coronavirus. Hopefully, the columns that I, and the rest of our correspondents, provide you is a momentary escape from the trials and tribulations that Americans, and the rest of the world’s population, are experiencing. The COVID-19 is not a video game that you can press reset and get a new life. This is real and dangerous so, above all, be prudent and stay safe.
The sports world morns today the passing of Westley Sissel Unseld. Wes was a great athlete, as well as a tremendous human being, and will be sorely missed.
Unseld was a Louisville native and attended the University of Louisville from 1965 to 1968. At Seneca High School, he’s was selected to the Parade All American first-team in 1964. As a Cardinal, he was a consensus All American in his junior and senior years.
Wes excelled as a pro playing all 14 years with the Baltimore/Capital/Washington Bullets. #41 was selected with the second overall pick in the 1968 draft and made an immediate impact.
In his rookie season, Unseld hit the trifecta. He was named to the All-NBA First Team and Rookie of the Year along with being the Most Valuable Player. Only Wilt Chamberlain can make the same claim and that’s some elite company to say the least.
Upon his retirement in 1981, Wes continued to work for the Bullets from 1981 through 2004. He served as vice president and head coach along with general manager during that time period with a year off in 1995.
In my book, the most prestigious award bestowed on the 6′ 7″ center was in 1975. He was selected as the recipient of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award.
I have a personal memory of Unseld I would like to share. My parents took our family to New York City for a Christmas vacation and Dad got tickets to the ECAC Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.
That gave me the opportunity to watch Big Wes up-close-and-personal as Louisville played Columbia. The Cardinals lost to the Lions 74-67 but it was what transpired before the game that made an indelible impression on me.
Unseld came out for the pre-game warmup and proceeded to sit at the free throw line. He then started to throw the basketball off the backboard. Nothing special there, right?
The rest of the story was that Wes was sitting at the opposite free throw line almost 80 feet away and he didn’t miss his target. Ball after ball caromed off the backboard with velocity.
In my almost 60 years of following hoops, I have NEVER witnessed an exhibition, or heard of one, that came close to resembling that one. I kid you not.
Fittingly, Unseld was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006. Today, he was inducted into the Eternal Hall of Fame.
Rest in peace, #41. It was a life well lived.