Wes Unseld, Washington Bullets Player and Beloved Coach, Dies at 74

Georgia Slater

Wes Unseld, a former player and head coach of the Washington Bullets, died Tuesday morning, his family announced. He was 74.

The athlete "passed away peacefully," his family shared in a statement, noting that he had been battling numerous health issues including pneumonia.

"He was the rock of our family — an extremely devoted patriarch who reveled in being with his wife, children, friends and teammates," the family wrote. "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."

After being chosen as the No. 2 draft pick, Unseld played with the Bullets — now the Wizards — from 1968 to 1981 and led the team to their first-ever NBA championship in 1978, according to ESPN. In his first year, the late basketball star became one of only two players to be crowned MVP and NBA Rookie of the Year in the same season.

The five-time All-Star player was then inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988 — his first year of eligibility.

After hanging up his No. 41 uniform — which became the first number the Bullets retired in 1981 — Unseld acted as the Bullets head coach from 1988 to 1994. He then worked as general manager from 1996 to 2003, during which the team made it into the playoffs, the Associated Press reported.

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Unseld got his start in Louisville, Kentucky, where he won two state championships at Seneca High School.

He then attended the University of Louisville and played all four years as a Cardinal, averaging 20.6 points and 18.9 rebounds.

Ron Koch/NBAE via Getty

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty

“We all admired Wes as the pillar of this franchise for so long 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," the Washington Wizards current owner Ted Leonsis said, per the AP.

Unseld left the Wizards in 2003 for "undisclosed health reasons" and later had both of his knees replaced. After spending 35 years with the franchise, Unseld only appeared at games sporadically following his leave of absence.

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"We would like to thank everyone who knew and loved him, personally and professionally, for their support during this loss," the family added in their statement. "We will share information in the near future about how we will celebrate Wes' incredible life. At this time, the family would appreciate privacy as they navigate this difficult loss."

Unseld is survived by wife, Connie, daughter Kim, son Wes, daughter-in-law Evelyn, and grandchildren Layla and Wes.