That's a look at Unseld's loyalty to his team. The examples of his giving outside the arena are extraordinary.
Unseld's wife, Connie, was teaching school in Baltimore in the early '70s while he was playing in the NBA. She wasn't happy with the education the students were getting, especially the youngest ones. So in '78 she opened a day-care center in Baltimore that was designed to do more than babysit. Wes paid what the parents' fees didn't cover, and Connie took no salary.
When their kids had completed the preschool program, parents Urged Connie to do more. She decided to open a real elementary school. "Are you kidding?" Wes told her, when she announced she wanted to found a school. "You have no idea what you're getting into." She wrote a proposal for the school and handed it to Wes. In time, he bought it. And then he paid for it. "Wes has been our seed money," she says.
Now the 175-student Unseld School serves toddlers through fifth-graders and has a 12-to-1 student-teacher ratio in the elementary school, 3 to 1 in the preschool. In the lobby of what was a former nursing school hangs a portrait of Wes. To some students, that's a picture of the bus driver—before Wes became head coach of the Bullets he occasionally drove the school's bus. One day last May he picked up the 12 fifth-graders and took them to lunch at Baltimore's Inner Harbor; this had become an annual event for each graduating class. In June, these new alumni spent a weekend night at the Unselds' home in Catonsville.
This NBA coach is clearly a hands-on philanthropist. During road trips he buys books for the school library. When Connie wanted a second playground, Wes found a man who made outdoor wooden play areas and helped the guy install one. When Connie wanted to buy computers for each classroom, Wes told her to make a computer room instead. "You don't want those wires in every room," he told her. "Kids will trip, and the wiring can be dangerous."
She said they didn't have room. He looked at the blueprints of the school building and drew new floor plans. The school now has a computer center. "The loyalty between us is what's kept us together," Connie says. "He's a loyal husband, loyal father, loyal friend, loyal benefactor to the school."
He does pretty well in his full-time job too, considering that the team he coaches is the Bullets. At the start of each season, Unseld tells his players that he expects respect from them, because he's the coach. Loyalty, well, that's another thing. "I tell them, 'I'll have to earn your loyalty,' " he says.
For Unseld, that's never been a very hard thing to do. As a 6'7" center out of Louisville, he was named the league's MVP and Rookie of the Year in 1968-69. He enjoyed an excellent 13-year career with the Bullets, being chosen for the All-Star game five times. He has always been there for the club, as a vice-president, assistant coach and, since '88, head coach. "I'm the first person in the office most mornings," says Susan O'Malley, the president of the team. "I got that from Wes."
A Bullet, says Unseld, "is a person who, once he steps on the court, is willing to do all he can to help that team be a winner. When he steps off the court, the same thing applies. Rightly or wrongly, I've helped fashion what a Bullet really is. I take a lot of pride in that. If I get guys who don't take a lot of pride in being a Bullet, we've either got to have a meeting of the minds or he has to leave."
The Bullets finished the 1989-90 season at home with a game against the Indiana Pacers on a Sunday afternoon. The next morning, at eight o'clock, Unseld walked into O'Malley's office. "Unseld here," he said, "reporting for duty."