Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Wes Unseld doesn’t attend NBA games anymore, so he won’t be there Tuesday when the Timberwolves play at Washington, which is not all that far from his home near Baltimore.
He doesn’t follow the league much either, not since he left a 35-year playing and managerial career with Washington-Baltimore Bullets/Wizards a decade ago. He chooses instead to spend his time with family, working at the private school his wife Connie founded in southwest Baltimore three decades ago and tending his garden.
He has seen and does know Wolves star Kevin Love, although not personally even though he was given his middle name Wesley because of him. Love’s father, Stan, played with Unseld in Baltimore 40 years ago and named his son after his former teammate because he admired Unseld and considered him a great player and what he once called a “citizen of the world.”
Two generations apart, Kevin Love and Unseld now are linked by that connection and their unique abilities then and now to snap a two-handed chest pass far down the court to open, streaking teammates.
All these years later, Unseld can’t tell you if Love indeed is the best outlet passer since he played long ago, for a simple reason.
“Never paid much attention to it,” he said. “I never looked at it that way. I just look at it as Kevin Love’s a fine player.”
Now 67, Unseld spends his days working the family business at Unselds’ School. He’s the morning greeter, office manager and hug-giver at a school that educates and loves children from day care to the eighth grade. When he’s not there, he’s tending in summer to his carrots, beets and okra — a return to life’s simpler ways, like when he grew up in the Kentucky countryside. He cooks meals and bakes bread.
It is worlds away from his professional life long ago, when he was known as a relentless rebounder, punishing presence, capable scorer and uniquely gifted outlet passer. That particular aspect of his game was remarkable enough people still talk about it today.
“I’ve seen him throw it off the other backboard,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “He was incredible.”
Unseld never intended those outlet passes to anyway overshadow a career in which he was drafted second overall in 1968, averaged 18.2 rebounds that first year and became the only player since Wilt Chamberlain to win league MVP as a rookie. He led the Bullets to an NBA title nine years later.
He learned to snap them simply as a way to get on the floor at Louisville’s Seneca High when he was a sophomore, learning if he made stars Paul Cosby and Mike Redd look better, he’d look good, too. He went on to two state prep championships, starred in college for Louisville and played 13 NBA seasons on his way to the Hall of Fame and being named one of the NBA’s all-time 50 greatest players.
“I didn’t think it was a ticket,” he said. “It was just a ticket to be on the team.”
Three decades after he retired from playing, his name might be mentioned as often for those outlet passes — at least around the Timberwolves and Love — as anything else he accomplished in such an acclaimed career.
“Well, if that’s the only thing I can be remembered for,” he said, “then I’m in pretty bad shape.”
Mystery wrapped in a riddle in a …
The Clippers make their first Target Center visit this season Wednesday, the second meeting in nine days between the two teams. The Clippers won 109-107 last week in Los Angeles after the Wolves had three shots — including two short ones in the final two seconds — to tie the score in the final moments.
It was the latest in a growing list of entertaining games between the teams. It’s a long ways away, but wouldn’t a playoff series be…?
Clippers coach Doc Rivers sounded intrigued when discussing the Wolves.
“They run, but they don’t run,” Rivers said. “They throw those home-run passes by [Kevin] Love, and they’re fifth in fast-break points but they don’t look like an athletic team. They remind me of the old Celtics and you ask, ‘How are they running?’ and yet they’re running. But they’ll use the 24 seconds [shot clock] and they’ll wait and wait and wait until you break down and then they’ll take advantage of it. It takes all of you to stop them.”
All good things must end…
If the Wolves’ romp over the Lakers last week — a victory that ended a 22-game losing streak to the 16-time NBA champs — isn’t an indication that things are changing in Los Angeles, well…
The Lakers’ victory over New Orleans on Tuesday was the first time since Dec. 2006 that they didn’t sell out Staples Center. That stopped a 320-game, sellout streak. The Lakers on Tuesday announced attendance at 18,426, about 500 short of a capacity crowd.
The Wolves’ week ahead
Tuesday: at Washington 6 p.m. (FSN+)
Friday: vs. Brooklyn, 7 p.m. (FSN)
Saturday: at Houston 7 p.m. (FSN)
Player to watch
Kevin Garnett, Nets
He doesn’t have many Target Center returns left in him, so catch him while you with a budget-busting Nets team whose 2-5 start sure isn’t worth that $180 million payroll tab.
« I guess he’s been the one holding us back. »
— Rick Adelman after veteran Kevin Martin missed Wednesday’s game against Cleveland because he was too ill to play and the Wolves scored a season-high 124 points in a blowout anyway.