LeBron Helps Put Spotlight Back on Wes
To the surprise of no one who watched the NBA this season, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James will be named the league's most valuable player today. James is 24, which the same age that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone and Bill Russell were when they won their first MVP award.
Bob Pettit, Bob McAdoo and Wilt Chamberlain were all 23, but the youngest player to ever win the award remains Wes Unseld, who turned 23 only nine days before he won the MVP with the Baltimore Bullets in 1968-69. The 6-foot-7 Unseld also won the rookie of the year that season. He and Chamberlain remain the only players to pull off that amazing ROY-MVP duo in the same season.
After going 36-46 the season before, the Bullets selected Unseld second overall behind Elvin Hayes in the 1968 NBA draft. Unseld joined a team that already had the reigning rookie of the year in Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Kevin Loughery and Gus Johnson. Unseld helped the Bullets make a 21-game improvement, finish with a league-best 57 wins, and record the first winning season in franchise history. He averaged 13.8 points and 18.2 rebounds and had 11 points and eight rebounds in the All-Star Game, which was played at the Baltimore Civic Center. In the playoffs, Unseld averaged 18.8 points and 18.5 rebounds but the Bullets lost in the conference semifinals to the New York Knicks.
It wasn't like Unseld won because it was a down year or anything like that. The first team all-NBA squad that season was Unseld, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Billy Cunningham and Earl Monroe. In his final season, Bill Russell led the Boston Celtics to an NBA championship over Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain.
The Washington Wizards have never had a draft pick that had more impact on the franchise than Westley Sissel Unseld, the undersized yet supremely strong center who helped bring the only championship in 1978. What's crazy about Unseld's accomplishments is that he was smaller than the 6-foot-9, 270-pound James and routinely held his own against Chamberlain, Adbul-Jabbar and Willis Reid. I went back and looked at an old story that Paul Attner wrote about Unseld for the Washington Post in April 1979. The following passage puts his successful run as a player with the franchise in perspective:
How is greatness measured? If by individual satatitics and splashy personality, Unseld might have difficulty making it to the anteroom of the hall of fame. But if success-winning- is the cretorion, he deserves a post among the elite.
Just consider what this unpretentious, uncontroversial, undemanding man has done since joining the Bullets, who were near the bottom of the league before his rookie his year.
During his 11 seasons, the club has made the playoffs without fail, compiled one of the two best overall winning records in basketball, reached the finals of the NBA playoffs three times, captured a title and registered the regular season mark thrice.
During the 1970s, no franchise in pro basketball has won more games than the Bullets.
In that time, the club has undergone a total roster turnover, save for one player: Unseld.
And only Russell, cornerstone of the Celtic dynasty, registered more career victories at center with one team than has Unseld.
Those are the accomplishments of a rare individual. But when the great centers who have played the game are named, Unseld is mentioned long after Russell, Chamberlain, Mikan and Abdul-Jabbar.
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