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Looking Back, It's Easy to Remember

By George Solomon
Sunday, June 8, 2008

"The world championship was his for the taking. If he made two free throws, or even one, the Bullets would be winners.

"Aiming so deliberately, you wonder if he'll shoot at all, he then seems to squeeze the ball from his hands as if extracting juice from a lemon. And there he was, the championship at hand."

Has it been 30 years since former Post columnist Dave Kindred wrote those words about the free throws Wes Unseld made with 12 seconds left to ensure Washington's 105-99 victory at Seattle in Game 7 for its only NBA championship?

Thirty years ago.

It was a time when the NBA gave you three free throws to make two, and Unseld was at three consecutive misses when Kindred wrote, "Unseld rose again, seeming to freeze at the top of the motion, frozen in the dream. But this one was good and you knew the Bullets had won."

Thirty years ago.

"I knew you'd make those last two free throws," I told Unseld in a telephone conversation Wednesday.

"I'm glad you thought that," Unseld said, "because I didn't think I'd make 'em. But I convinced myself I would do something else to keep us from losing that game.

"After I made the first one, [Bullets Coach Dick] Motta called timeout. I thanked him for icing me."

Unseld made the next free throw, Bobby Dandridge finished the game with a dunk and the Bullets -- Wes, Elvin, Kupchak, Grevey, Bobby D., Tom Henderson, CJ and the rest -- went romping gleefully into their dressing room, Unseld into the arms of the team's owner, Abe Pollin.

Thirty years ago.

Unseld, 62, is retired with new knees and hips after a lifetime of working for Pollin as a player (one of the 50 greatest in NBA history), coach and general manager. Pollin, 84, has had health problems for several years and needs a wheelchair to get around. But he's in his 44th year of owning and running an NBA team that's made the playoffs four straight seasons, in an arena he built 10 years ago with his own money that changed Washington forever.

"I remember the night well," said Unseld, who is rarely given to sharing his emotions. "It was a night when everything seemed to be moving quickly."

I also remember the night, and WRC-TV anchor Jim Vance playing the song, "We Are the Champions" -- closing his broadcast by saying the Bullets had made a lot of people happy. "Made me happy, too," Unseld said.

Future Considerations

From the past we move smartly to the future. The Nationals on Thursday announced the selection of right-handed pitcher Aaron Crow of the University of Missouri in the first round of the draft. Five additional picks were made Thursday; the draft concluded Friday with Rounds 7 through 50.

On the same day, the Wizards began three days of pre-draft workouts for 17 draft-eligible players, including Darnell Jackson of Kansas, Ty Lawson of North Carolina and D.J. White of Indiana. Seventeen players in for a tryout? Who didn't get invited, besides the senator from New York now looking for activities to fill her schedule? "We want to take a look at all the players who might be available in the draft, or those we might invite onto our summer league team," said Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld.

Unlike football and basketball, whose draftees often make immediate impact, most baseball draftees need time in the minors. Who knows if we'll ever see any of these draft picks in a Nats uniform?

"You never draft for the major league team's needs," Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden said. That statement stopped me cold, as did Bowden's response to why most draftees have such a slow track to the bigs: "Baseball is the toughest of all sports" to master. Really?

Still, Bowden predicted the 21-year-old Crow "should come to the major leagues on a fast track" once he signs, comparing Crow to the retired David Cone.

Crow's ascent couldn't come fast enough for always upbeat Nats Manager Manny Acta, who on Draft Day watched his last-place team lose an afternoon game, 4-1, to the Cardinals, then blow a 7-0 lead in the nightcap before winning, 10-9, in the 10th on Elijah "It took awhile" Dukes's two-run homer.

"The draft," Acta said, "is a good way to rebuild the farm system."

Twenty minutes earlier, Acta, who noted his native Dominican Republic does not have a draft ("we're all free agents"), had watched the 2007 Nats go down meekly in front of meager makeup matinee audience at Nationals Park. The eerie scene that included the postgame Bob Marley number "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" reminded me of the movie "The Natural" -- with the fictional New York Knights bumbling through their season until the arrival of Roy Hobbs.

Aaron Crow? Roy Hobbs? Where's the lightning?

Finally

· Loved the Post's All-Met luncheon, which on Monday honored 364 high school athletes and coaches at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. AU men's basketball coach Jeff Jones was the featured speaker at the 24th annual event, and Wizards guard Roger Mason Jr. was the "Distinguished All-Met" recipient.

The winner of the Donald Huff Award for contributions made to local athletics was Joy Taylor. Not Joe Taylor, as erroneously reported in this space last Sunday. Joe Taylor is a D.C. native who is the head football coach at Florida A&M, former head coach at Hampton for 16 years, onetime assistant at H.D. Woodson and former president of the Black Coaches Association.

Joe Taylor is my nominee for the Donald Huff Award for 2009.

· Farewell: Barry Lorge, a talented tennis writer for The Post from 1975 to 1981, and later sports editor at the San Diego Union, died Wednesday in San Diego of kidney cancer. He was 60. The Boston Globe's Bud Collins, who was Lorge's competitor in tennis's heyday, recalled the Italian scribe Gianni Clerici, referring to Lorge as "Tolstoy" and of his affinity for writing long stories and pushing deadlines. "Are you taking so much time writing to make it 'War and Peace' on the tennis court?" Clerici asked Lorge, according to Collins. "Is your deadline next year?" But Lorge could play.

· Author/columnist John Feinstein's plan to open a restaurant this month named "Doc's of Potomac" has been terminated because of financial and legal complications. One Feinstein friend lamented, "Doc's is no more, never was."

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