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.

The youngest MVP? Yeah, you know me.

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.

By Michael Lee |  May 4, 2009; 12:41 PM ET
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we need a new owner

Posted by: prescrunk | May 4, 2009 1:16 PM

That's awesome. I'm too young to have seen Unseld as anything other than the coach of some really bad teams, but that is impressive. Best record for the 70s? Damn.

Posted by: manifested | May 4, 2009 1:54 PM

It's Wes's title for now, but Durant's got about 3 years before he's 23. So i wouldn't be surprised if he becomes the youngest mvp ever.

Posted by: CBell29 | May 4, 2009 2:00 PM

MVP almost always goes to a player on one of the two or three best records in the regular season. I don't see Oklahoma hitting that mark any time soon. I think Wes is safe for now.

Posted by: kalo_rama | May 4, 2009 2:11 PM

Michael, I find it cowardly of you to fail to mention in any way, Wes' absolute destruction of this franchise for a period spanning nearly 20 years as VP, Head Coach and GM - probably history's worst in all those roles - but Abe, the old fool, was madly in love with Wes for some bizarre reason:

"After his retirement in 1981 he moved into a front office position with the Bullets where he served as vice president for six years before being named head coach in 1987. His tenure as coach was nowhere near as successful as his playing career, and he resigned following the 1994 season with a 202–345 record (.369). Unseld became Washington's General Manager in 1996 and guided the team to the playoffs only once during his tenure."

Posted by: BulletsFan1 | May 4, 2009 2:21 PM

Wes was a great Bullet....

Posted by: outrbnksm | May 4, 2009 2:26 PM

we need a new owner
Posted by: prescrunk | May 4, 2009 1:16 PM

We need new fans.

Posted by: Rocc00 | May 4, 2009 2:29 PM

we need a new owner
Posted by: prescrunk | May 4, 2009 1:16 PM

We need new fans.

Posted by: Rocc00 | May 4, 2009 2:29 PM

Maybe. But Wes really WAS that bad as GM and coach. Of course, he had limited talent during a lot of those years.

Posted by: original_mark | May 4, 2009 2:47 PM

Fine (and agreed), Wes was a great player, but he destroyed this franchise for nearly 20 years after he retired. We should not ignore that.

Posted by: BulletsFan1 | May 4, 2009 2:47 PM

Bullet Fan 1 .
2 completely different careers. The absolute epitome of a team player and champion is what Wes did as a player.

He was a poor excuse for a GM and Coach obviously given the benifit of many doubts for his loyalty and service to the team. He is also a loyal and honorable person.

Elgin Baylor, Magic and Bill Russel also sucked in the office or behind the bench and nobody can take away their accomplishments on the court.

By the same token being an amazing leader and great coach are not going to make Pat Riley and Phil Jackson Hall of Fame Players

Posted by: squammy | May 4, 2009 2:48 PM

We need new fans.
Posted by: Rocc00 | May 4, 2009 2:29 PM

Just like the Caps of the mid 21st century, I will be sitting out the next couple of years as the Wiz rebuilt.

In this economy, I can't afford to be a paying supporter & my time is also worth a heck of a lot more these days.
Posted by: Rocc00 | February 18, 2009 6:09 PM

please. ever thought about why u "can't afford to be a paying Wiz supporter"? ur defending the same miser who sells outrageously priced tickets and concessions at Les Boules games. u also boycotted the Caps 'til they started winning?? Guess who DOESN'T own the team anymore...
ur obviously old and delusional like Abe. go smoke ur embalming fluid before its in ur veins

Posted by: prescrunk | May 4, 2009 3:00 PM

WOW a new post way to go Michael.

Wes was a great player but the Bullets would have never won a championship without the Big E.

The bullets were good before free agency, but once that came around the really good players never wanted to come and play for Abe. The old man fired MJ for making bad picks but let Wes run the show no matter what happened?

I do not see this team winning a championship as long as Abe is the owner.

Posted by: bulletsfan78 | May 4, 2009 3:01 PM

CHRIS WEBBER was traded to the Sacramento Kings for Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe in May 1998.

RICHARD HAMILTON, Hubert Davis and Bobby Simmons were traded to Detroit for Jerry Stackhouse, Brian Cardinal and Ratko Varda IN 2002. Since the trade, Richard has become one of the NBA's top shooting guards, and helped the Pistons win the NBA Championship in 2004.

BEN WALLACE was traded to the Orlando Magic along with Tim Legler, Terry Davis, and Jeff McInnis for Ike Austin in 1999.

RASHEED WALLACE was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Rod Strickland and Harvey Grant in '95 or '96.

Posted by: BulletsFan1 | May 4, 2009 3:08 PM

wes as coach with the help of the always cheery scorer bernard king combined to teach me the f-bomb when I read in the paper that bernard was quoted as saying this to wes at practice, "[Bleep] you!" sure enough I asked my pops what bleep meant and he let me know, a lesson every eight-year-old should receive from his favorite player,wes could not possibly have made worse trades during his tenure, sheed for strickland, webb for mitch richmond (even when acquiring c webb he traded 3 1st round picks along with googs who was the team's best player at the time), ben wallace for ike austin and rip for stackhouse? I saw him play a total of zero games as a hall of famer, but did see him ruin the franchise for 15 years as a legendarily awful gm

Posted by: bford1kb | May 4, 2009 3:08 PM

maybe Blake Griffin will be the "next" Wes

Posted by: PVGtownAz | May 4, 2009 3:09 PM

ha beat me to the punch, same exact trades outlined

Posted by: bford1kb | May 4, 2009 3:09 PM

Forgot to add my comment/question re those trades (directly above): does anyone doubt that Wes was the worst GM/VP in the history of this franchise, and perhaps in the history of the NBA?

Posted by: BulletsFan1 | May 4, 2009 3:12 PM

It was obvious to anyone with a brain that Michael Lee's column about Wes Unseld was in direct correlation with the NBA's selection of Lebron as MVP and the fact that LeTravel was also one of the league's youngest recipients of that honor.Wes Unseld was a "beast" around the basket and night in and night out played against some the league's greatest big men,Nate "the great"Thurmond,Willis Reed,Luke Jackson,Wilt Chamberlain,Walt Bellamy, Bill Russell, Karem, just to name a few but all some of you can talk about is what a lousy coach and gm Unseld was, where in the column was that topic the subject? today's NBA players are spoiled underachievers with no sense of league history, oh yeah they're a few like Chris Paul and LeBron who are aware of who came before them and to be sure if the Garnet's and the Duncan's had to go against the greats that i just mentioned they would be hard pressed to duplicate their feats of today and to think fans of this franchise thought Brendan Haywwod's 10ptts.7reb. are something to crow about! PLEASE DON'T MAKE ME LMAO!!!

Posted by: dargregmag | May 4, 2009 3:35 PM

In all fairness to this article, Wes WAS very important to the Bullets in winning their only world championship. There is nothing history can do, or we as Wizards fans, to take that away.

It happened. Give Wes what he deserves. But he DID also do the impossible and totally wreck the Bullets during his tenure as coach. He just flat outright can't coach wirth a lick.

Wes had talent but not much brains for the game. So let's leave it at that. MJ falls in that category as well.

Look at the Van gundy brothers. These guys are coaching machines coming from a family engrossed in basketball caoching...so they get the mindset for coaching honest. It just goes to show you can't always turn a good player into a good caoch and vice versa.

Posted by: cbmuzik | May 4, 2009 4:47 PM


You have Luke Jackson and Walt Bellamy on that list? I am old enough to have gone to the Capital Center and watched how good Wes was.

I disagree that Duncan and Garnett could not hold there own against guys from the old days. I don't know if Wes would be able to keep up with the pace of today's game. Different era's but a good basketball player is a good basketball player.

Posted by: bulletsfan78 | May 4, 2009 5:14 PM

Hamilton for Stackhouse was a Jordan trade, not Unseld. And Strickland had a good couple of years for the Bullets, so that trade wasn't as one-sided as is being portrayed.

Posted by: bowiemd1 | May 4, 2009 7:34 PM

Abe trusted Wes. He probbly did as good a job as anyone coulda given the circumstances.
Abe has the right idea to keep a team together for a few years.
It's been a few years and it gotta work next season or time to blow up the whole organization and start fresh.
I'm hoping this works.
Abe don't deserve a repeat of this year.

Posted by: VBFan | May 4, 2009 8:14 PM

So there we go again, too many of us concentrating on the negatives. I guess to few of you wants to correlate the impact of Lebron James versus Wes Unseld as players in this League.

Lebron James has yet to be a coach or an GM. Mike was clearly trying to bring out the achievements of Wes Unseld as a player to this franchise in comparison to LBJ.

You see I saw Wes play and Dancing Harry on the sidelines. The Bullets back then was a very exciting franchise, much like Cleveland is today, but better.

The Bullets were a much deeper Team than Cleveland will ever be. Wes, Hayes, Monroe, Dandridge, Loughery, Gus Johnson, and others.

In NBA lure, Cleveland has no one on there Team now that compares to these fellows, except Lebron.

Cleveland has yet to come close franchise wise to the Wizards and the exploits of Wes Unseld.

They have yet to win a NBA ring yet and this year is not given by at least THREE country miles.

But instead of enough of you wanting to blog about the positives of this franchise, you choose to talk about the negatives of Wes as a GM and a Coach.

Tell you what, Wes was not a good coach, but he was not the worst, and nor was the worst GM either.

Lebron James is a great player so far, but he still got to go some to surpass Wes Unseld and his crowd.

Ya' Heard Me. Iffin' Ya' Don't Know Ya' Beddar' Ask Sombode'.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | May 4, 2009 10:10 PM

Excuse me for coming on strong, but them Cleveland Caveliers don't match up to the exploits of this franchise.

Wes may not have been a success as a GM and a coach, but Cleveland and Lebron have not matched or surpassed this franchise in any way yet.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | May 4, 2009 11:30 PM

The article/blog talks about the IMPACT THAT WES HAD ON THE BULLETS as a player. If you discuss Wes' impact on the Bullets, you simply can't duck the fact that Wes torpedoed our franchise for nearly 20 years. The Bullets have not won a championship or come close in 31 years - Wes, the GM/Coach, is a primary reason for that. I respectfully disagree with those that think that's acceptable. At least Grunfeld has brought us some respectability.

Posted by: BulletsFan1 | May 4, 2009 11:39 PM

Re the Rip Hamilton trade in 2002, MJ was a player and Wes was the GM. Debatable whether MJ or Wes made the trade, but MJ had relinquished his front office role and ownership interest while he was a player. Plus, MJ was fired in May 2003, so I blame Wes/Abe. But it is debatable.

Posted by: BulletsFan1 | May 4, 2009 11:51 PM

Larry, would u rather own the Wiz or the Cavs right now? We have a long way to go to get competitive with the Cavs. It's their title to lose this year.

Posted by: BulletsFan1 | May 4, 2009 11:53 PM

But you know I date myself. I may be confused if Dancing Harry came with the Team from Baltimore.

Kalo_rama or BulletsFan78, can ya' help me out on that.

And ya know it really sucks that Earl the Pearl Monroe was traded to the Knickerbockers before the Bullets won there championship.

The guy that commented about FA's not wanting to play for ABE may have a point.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | May 5, 2009 1:26 AM


I think I'd rather own the Wizards right now. The Wizard/Bullets franchise have been to FOUR NBA championships and won ONE.

They have been competitive in the Playoffs for numerous seasons.

The Cleveland Caveliers have One Championship appearance and fall way short of the Wizard/Bullets by comparison.

I disagree that it is there Ring to loose this year. Atlanta is no push over and I do expect Cleveland to beat them, but Orlando will beat the Celtics in six or less and I pick them to beat Cleveland in this Eastern Plaffoffs Final.

Ya' Heard Me.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | May 5, 2009 1:36 AM

The guy that commented about FA's not wanting to play for ABE may have a point.


That was me and I believe word gets around the leauge about how a player are treated by certain organizations. Yes, a free agent wants to make as much money as he can but the really good player who wants to win a championship will go someplace he thinks he can win one.

Dancing Harry was around when Earl Monroe was here. After Earl was traded to the Knicks harry took his talents to Madison Square Garden in 71

Posted by: bulletsfan78 | May 5, 2009 2:03 AM

Wes Unseld the coach and General Manager have overshadowed "Wes the player" in many of the younger poster's minds. But I grew up watching Wes battle Russell, Chamberlain,Thurmond, Reed, & Bellamy when he came in the league. Over the years he tangled with all the young warriors that came up throughout the 70's.

With Wes in the post the Bullets were one of the most consistant franchises in the NBA from the first day he walked on the court and until the day he retired. There were a lot of other great Bullets during that run. But Wes was the one player that was there for it all.

Elgin Baylor hasn't been much of a GM. Larry Bird doesn't have a title as a coach, GM, or Team President. And today, due to financial pressures the Pacers may have to dump contracts and make moves that make them less competitive. Does that diminish what either Hall of Famer did on the court as a player?

Wes Unseld WAS this franchise for his entire career on the court. He is still one of the strongest men I've ever seen on a basketball court. One of the few guys that even Chamberlain couldn't dislodge in the post.

As a young guy he could really run the floor and had some surprising hops. Early in his career, he and Gus Johnson were two of the league's most powerful dunkers. When he came in the league he could snag a rebound, spin in mid air and fire and outlet pass all in one motion.

Throughout his career he had one of the most accurate outlet passes in the league. Kevin Porter made a living outracing guys to one of Wes's outlets for an uncontested layup.

And above all he was one of the real quality guys to ever play in the NBA. If you would understand that, then you'd have an idea why Abe loves him. One of the 50 greatest in the first 50 years. Anyone that ever saw him play would tell you that for sure.

Oh, and Dancing Harry took his act throughout the league. He was even a Free Agent and jumped to the old ABA and was a fixture at Indy for awhile. Harry started dancing in the aisles at the old Baltimore Civic Center during timeouts.

One night he just took his act onto the floor, the crowd went wild, and Abe let him perform. In those days there were no dance teams. I quess Harry started the whole "showtime thing".

In those days the old Civic Center was a rocking wild place. Kind of akin to a Will Ferrell movie. Dancing Harry, little dogs pulling cannons...

Posted by: flohrtv | May 5, 2009 7:47 AM

Thats what I'm talking about GM.

That a fastbreaking, slam dunking post.

Keeping it real GM, 78, Dargreg' and some others.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | May 5, 2009 8:16 AM

Having a guy that can defend the lane, sweep the glass, or block a shot, to spring the break is still the best way to win at any level.

There is a huge difference in a team that uses it's D to spring the break and uptempo teams. Most slow minded people haven't figured that one out yet...

Posted by: flohrtv | May 5, 2009 10:15 AM

"Wes' absolute destruction of this franchise for a period spanning nearly 20 years as VP, Head Coach and GM - probably history's worst in all those roles"

At least Wes did not stuff the team with bunch of overpaid players like Isaiah Thomas did.

Posted by: sagaliba | May 5, 2009 10:31 AM

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