LOUISVILLE, Ky. — University of Louisville legend and NBA Hall of Famer Wes Unseld has passed away following his recent health battle with pneumonia, his family released in a statement.
Unseld, 74, was born and raised in Louisville, winning state championships for Seneca High School in 1963 and 1964. He later earned NCAA All-American accolades during his time at UofL. Unseld was also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.
"To me, it was a defining moment," former Cardinal Wade Houston, who played with Unseld and was the first African American to play basketball at Louisville, said of Unseld coming to UofL. "We talked a lot about just the care and the love we both have because we were both here back in the 60's when a lot of people just didn't know what it was like being a player here."
"Wes opened up the doors to let African Americans know they could be successful at Louisville," 1980 Louisville national champion Jerry Eaves said.
The center was drafted second in the 1968 NBA Draft to the Baltimore Bullets. In his first season with the Bullets, Unseld became one of two players in NBA history to win Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in the same season.
Unseld dominated as a rebounder and led the Bullets to the 1978 NBA championship, earning Finals MVP honors. He was a five-time All-Star who played all 13 of his NBA seasons in Washington.
"He was a gentle enforcer," Houston said. "He didn't start anything, but boy, you didn't want to start anything when Wes was around because he was just so strong. It was unbelievable."
"He wasn't a very big leaper," 1980 UofL national champion Darrell Griffith said. "But he knew how to put his body against you, position himself to get a rebound. He was the best to ever do that."
"Wes was a superstar because he made everyone else better," Eaves said.
After retiring in 1981, Unseld stayed with the organization, later serving as vice president and head coach. After resigning at head coach, Unseld became the team's general manager in 1996.
Off of the court, his selflessness always towetred. In 1978, he helped his wife Connie establish The Unseld School in Baltimore to educate and nourish children.
"Just one of those guys who did everything he could," Houston said.
"If Wes Unseld gave you his word, it bound him forever," Eaves said. "He's the person with the most integrity I've ever been around."
Unseld leaves behind his wife of 50 years in Connie, his daughter Kim, son Wes, and grandchildren.
Former UofL Basketball star Wes Unseld passes away
Wes Unseld's family released the following statement regarding his passing:
UofL Men's Basketball Coach Chris Mack released a statement: