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The Way We Were

Late NBA and University of Louisville great Wes Unseld is seen above as a player for the Washington Bullets in January 1979 and below as general manager of the Bullets in 1996. Unseld, the workmanlike Hall of Fame center who led Washington to its only NBA championship and was chosen one of the 50 greatest players in league history, died June 2. (AP Photos)

Late NBA and University of Louisville great Wes Unseld is seen above as a player for the Washington Bullets in January 1979 and below as general manager of the Bullets in 1996. Unseld, the workmanlike Hall of Fame center who led Washington to its only NBA championship and was chosen one of the 50 greatest players in league history, died June 2. (AP Photos)

Wes Unseld dies at 74; Kentucky native was one of NBA’s 50 best

By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Sports Writer

WASHINGTON

Wes Unseld, the workmanlike Hall of Fame center who led Washington to its only NBA championship and was chosen one of the 50 greatest players in league history, died Tuesday after a series of health issues, most recently pneumonia. He was 74.

Unseld’s family announced his death via a statement released by the Washington Wizards, the franchise he was with throughout his entire 13-season playing career and also worked for as a coach and general manager.

“Those of us who were fortunate enough to spend time with Wes knew him as a generous and thoughtful man whose strong will was matched only by his passion and drive for uplifting others,” current Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard said. “His physical prowess, undeniable talent and on-court demeanor may have struck fear in opponents throughout the NBA, but he will be remembered best as a mentor, leader and friend.”

 

 

A five-time All-Star and, along with Wilt Chamberlain, one of only two players to win NBA Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in the same season, Unseld instantly made the team then known as the Baltimore Bullets into a winner after he was taken with the No. 2 overall pick — behind future teammate Elvin Hayes — in the 1968 draft.

A decade later, Unseld was the MVP of the 1978 NBA Finals as the Bullets beat the Seattle SuperSonics in a seven-game series best known for Washington coach Dick Motta’s proclamation: “The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”

Listed at 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, Unseld overcame taller players and bad knees with a strong work ethic and lots of grunt work in the paint. He was a tenacious rebounder and strong passer.

Unseld was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988, his first year of eligibility.

“I never played pretty,” Unseld said on the day he was elected. “I wasn’t flashy. My contributions were in the things most people don’t notice. They weren’t in high scoring or dunking or behind-the-back passes.”

Wesley Sissel Unseld was born March 14, 1946, in Louisville, Kentucky, where he won two state championship at Seneca High School and then stayed home for college, attending the University of Louisville.

He averaged 20.6 points and 18.9 rebounds over his four years with the Cardinals.

In the NBA, Unseld averaged 10.8 points and 14 rebounds for his career.

His aching knees forced Unseld to stop playing in 1981, but he remained with the franchise that would eventually retire his No. 41 jersey.

“We all admired Wes as the pillar of this franchise for so long,” Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said, “but it was his work off the court that will truly leave an impactful legacy and live on through the many people he touched and influenced throughout his life of basketball and beyond.”

Unseld initially worked in Washington’s front office, then was head coach for nearly seven seasons from 1987-94, compiling a 202-345 record with one playoff appearance. He also had a seven-year stint as general manager from 1996-03, when the team made one other trip to the playoffs.

After the club’s then-owner, Abe Pollin, died in 2009, Unseld said: “I have no doubt that he kept me longer in positions than he should have — and longer than I wanted him to. He was loyal.”

Pollin’s widow, Irene, said Tuesday: “Since 1968, Wes was the broad shoulders upon which our team was built, and his Hall of Fame career and the championship that he helped bring our city speaks for itself. But for us, the loss of Wes is more than that. He and the Unselds are family to us, and when you lose a family member — especially a beloved figure like Wes — the sorrow is unfathomable.”

Unseld took a leave of absence from the Wizards for undisclosed health reasons in 2003, ending 35 years of continuous service to the franchise. He had both knees replaced in October of that year and afterward appeared at games only occasionally.

Unseld is survived by his wife, Connie, daughter Kim, son Wes Unseld Jr., and two grandchildren. Wes Jr. is an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

“He was the rock of our family — an extremely devoted patriarch who reveled in being with his wife, children, friends and teammates,” the family’s statement said. “He was our hero and loved playing and working around the game of basketball for the cities of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., cities he proudly wore on his chest for so many years.”


Clips from available Mountain Eagle pages since our founding in 1907

THURSDAY
JUNE 6, 1940

A young fellow by the name of Johnnie Ludwick was arrested this week on a charge of passing counterfeit money. Young Ludwick, according to information, tried to pass the bogus bill to one store in Neon and upon failure to do so he proceeded to another business place where he succeeded in passing the bill. The man in charge of the store immediately discovered the bill was counterfeit and rushed out on the sidewalk and got Ludwick’s license number just as he was driving away.

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The recruiting quota for Kentucky for enlistment in the U.S. Navy has been increased 50 percent as a result of the authorization of Congress for the enlistment of 170,000. This means at the present time opportunities exist for young men to be enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

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Melvin Banks, one of Letcher County’s former schoolteachers, was shot in the back from ambush at his place of business at Blackey Junction on Sunday. Sheriff Doyle Hogg has arrested and placed in jail two men who are under suspicion and others are suspected of being accomplices in the crime.

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“Waterloo Bridge” starring Vivian Leigh and Robert Taylor is playing at Isaac’s Kentucky Theatre in Whitesburg. Also being shown is “Daytime Wife” with Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell.

THURSDAY
June 8, 1950

A rift took place among Whitesburg city officials at the council meeting Monday. Disagreement is said to have arisen over who should be employed as city policeman. Some of the members desired the hiring of Lindsay Polly for Chief of Police and others desired the hiring of B. Day, who has been assistant chief for some time. A vacancy was recently created through the resignation of Joe Blair. During the dispute, Mayor Ed Williams, failing to agree, offered his resignation which the council accepted. At this time Lindsay Polly is acting as Chief of Police and the Day brothers are still employed in the same positions as assistant chief and fire chief.

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Virgil Bowens, Millstone, son of Has and Maggie Bowens, has reenlisted in the U.S. Air Force for four years in the grade of Private First Class. He has been assigned to the Indoctrination Division, Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas for processing and further assignment.

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One of the finest Negro quintets in this part of the country will sing at the Methodist Church in Whitesburg Sunday. This quintet will sing Spirituals and Gospel songs. I am sure you have not heard such singing in many years. — Rev. Paul M. Stewart

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A one-day clinic for crippled children will be held at the Presbyterian Church in Whitesburg June 21. All crippled persons under 21 years of age are invited to attend.

THURSDAY
JUNE 9, 1960

State Aeronautics Commissioner Phil Swift announced that the state has set aside funds for construction of a chain of airports in eastern Kentucky including one at Whitesburg. Swift told the Eastern Kentucky Regional Planning Commission that the commonwealth plans to spend $249,000 on airport development in eastern Kentucky within the next two years. His announcement gave added assurance to the Whitesburg Airport Board that Letcher County can have an airport if it can find a site and sufficient local funds.

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For the second straight year, The Mountain Eagle has been honored for its service to the area in which it is located. The Kentucky Press Association at its meeting last week awarded the newspaper a certificate of honorable mention in the KPA’s annual contest among newspapers for community service.

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The general budget for Letcher County schools for the 1960-61 year is $1,133,000, Superintendent William B. Hall said. The 1960-61 budget is up around $300,000 from the $1,079,033.18 figure of last year.

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Whitesburg City Council voted Tuesday to install new half-hour parking meters on Main Street in an effort to speed up the turnover of traffic. Parking will cost five cents for a half-hour, and 10 cents for a full hour.

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Promoted to his present rank April 22 while serving with the First Marine Wing in Iwakuni, Japan, was Marine Cpl. Raymond G. Absher, son of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Absher of Whitesburg. Before enlisting in January 1956, he attended Whitesburg High School.

THURSDAY
JUNE 4, 1970

A home repair project operated by the Eastern Kentucky Housing Development Corporation has won the unanimous endorsement of the Kentucky River Area Development District. The housing corporation is a four-county anti-poverty program which provides repairs to homes of elderly, disabled or blind public assistance recipients. The KRADD Board of Directors rejected a report from its own staff critical of the home repair program and voted instead to approve the program and recommend that it be extended to other counties and other areas of the country.

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A Mountain Eagle editorial objects to proposed plans for the Whitesburg bypass. The plans call for the destruction of 27 residences as well as Frazier’s Farmer Supply and the Gulf Oil Co. distribution plant. Among other problems seen are the nearness of the bypass to Whitesburg grade and high schools and Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital.

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Letcher Manufacturing, Inc. has been purchased by a Dallas, Texas firm, G.F. Industries. Spokesmen said operations of Letcher Manufacturing will be greatly expanded during the coming year as a result of the transaction, and G.F. Industries will build three factories in the county, providing 500 jobs. Letcher Manufacturing was founded in 1964 by Lois Baker and produces a line of upholstered furniture.

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The Veterans of Foreign Wars made the rounds of 33 cemeteries on Memorial Day to honor the wars’ dead.

THURSDAY
JUNE 5, 1980

“A mess” is what certified public accountant William Shears called the condition of the City of Jenkins books and the financial trouble the city is now facing. “As far as the city is concerned, there are no books,” Shears said. He said city books consisted of yellow pieces of paper, and that water and sewer company books, though in book form, were not much better.

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Letcher County’s bookkeeping system does not adequately safeguard the county’s assets, the state auditor’s office said. The auditor’s report said that poor records of fiscal court actions left “a major element of internal control missing.” The auditor said, “The minutes of the fiscal court meetings are not written in open court, but are produced from memory sometime after the court adjourns . . . We recommend a complete record of fiscal court meetings signed by the County Judge/Executive and all magistrates attending the meeting.”

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The Jenkins City Council has appointed Harold Davis to serve as mayor for the remainder of the term of office left vacant by the death of former mayor Jesse Bates.

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Whitesburg telephone users will soon be able to dial their own person-toperson, credit card, collect and bill-toanother calls, said Art Willett, local South Central Bill manager. Customers will be able to dial zero plus the area code and the phone number. An operator will then come on the line to get the necessary information.

WEDNESDAY
JUNE 6, 1990

Residents at Dairy Hollow in Jenkins were “fortunate” that they weren’t hurt when a blast at a nearby strip mine hurled rocks through roofs and onto the greens of a nearby golf course nearly a half-mile away. A spokesman for the state Department of Mines and Minerals said the explosion sent rocks “as big as basketballs” through the trees and into a subdivision in Dairy Hollow, damaging five houses and several cars. The blast was set off on a strip mine operated by Manning Mining Inc. of Jenkins.

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Incumbent Paul Mason is the winner of the Democratic nomination in the 91st District state representative primary election. Eddie Howard finished second, Steve Brewer third and Larry Crutcher fourth.

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Black bear sightings are being reported every day and in every part of Letcher County, leaving some residents more than a little shaken. State Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation Officer Jerry Coots said that over the last three weeks he has had calls from residents at Pine Creek, Sandlick, Linefork, Neon, Colliers Creek, Carcassonne and Thornton.

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A meeting to organize a Letcher County Genealogical and Historical Society will be held at the Letcher County Public Library. The purpose of the organization will be to collect, share and catalogue local historical and family records for the library’s collection so it will be available to the public.

WEDNESDAY
MAY 31, 2000

Jack Howard, who ran a bare 91 votes behind G.C. Kincer in the Democratic primary for 91st District State Representative, has asked for a recanvass of votes. The Letcher County Board of Elections office will recheck the totals from the voting machines used at the county’s 30 precincts and at the clerk’s office for absentee voting and will recount paper ballots.

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Golden Oak Mining Co. L.P. owes unsecured debts to more than 200 creditors, with more than $1.5 million owed to Letcher County businesses, filings in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Lexington show. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on May 16. It had done no mining since September, when a dispute with employees led to a shutdown of its mining operations and layoffs of its employees.

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Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation of Whitesburg has been honored as the nation’s Outstanding Rural Health Practice by the National Rural Health Association.

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Jenkins police and fire officials evacuated residents from Cane Branch after a piece of heavy equipment accidentally opened a seal gas well. Jenkins Police Chief Bill Tackett said employees of TECO Coal were working with an excavator when they hit the 20-year-old sealed well and knocked the cap off. There was no fire or explosion, but there was apparent a loud noise caused by the pressure of the gas inside the pipe. Tackett said authorities still aren’t sure who owns the gas well. Kentucky-West Virginia Gas capped it for authorities.

WEDNESDAY
JUNE 2, 2010

Construction of a new wing for women’s health services at Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital may be finished in about a year. The 15,956-square-foot addition for surgery, postpartum, obstetrics and nursery could be in use by next June. Plans for the wing include 16 private patient rooms for delivery recovery and post operation patients, four labor and delivery rooms, a 12-crib nursery, a Caesarian-section suite, and two family waiting rooms.

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A male black bear, which was estimated to weigh 100 pounds and be about one-and-a-half years old, was trapped and killed by state wildlife officials after it broke into a home at Linefork. An official with the Kentucky Division of Fish and Wildlife said a home entry by a bear is a serious situation that needs to be handled immediately.

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The road at Cook Branch, Mayking, has been dedicated to the memory of Lance Corporal Chad Gilliam, who died January 3, 2009 at Camp Buehring Kuwait. He was the son of Mary Ellen Cook Gilliam and Paul Gilliam.

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The Center for Rural Strategies has named Mason Salyers of Letcher County a 2010 Rogers Explorer. He represents Fleming-Neon Elementary School and is the son of Kimberly Wright of Neon.

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