Jerry Zgoda's Sunday Insider: The Love Connection

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 17, 2013 - 8:02 AM

Wes Unseld is remembered most for his outlet passes that Kevin Love now mimics.

Wes Unseld tucked the ball away from the Houston Rockets’ Rick Barry in a 1979 game. Unseld was a rugged rebounder but his legacy has turned out to be his outstanding outlet passes.

Photo: File photo by Joe Giza • Associated Press,

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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…?

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