Wes Unseld had more trouble yesterday getting into his new Thunderbird than he did sinking those two foul shots that clinched the Bullets' first NBA title.
He twisted and turned and grunted a little before his 6-foot-7, 245-pound (and counting) frame fell into the car, prize for winning Sport Magazine's most valuable player award in the final series.
"It's my new car," said his wife, Connie. "He hardly can get into it, so I guess I'll have to drive it."
But Unseld isn't going to have the burnt orange Thunderbird for long, anyway. He'd rather be driving a new van, so the magazine folks are replacing the car. He'll keep the van a year (to avoid any tax problems) and then buy it or give it back.
The car proved the only deterrent to an otherwise glowing morning for two things he normally avoids: reporters' prying questions and the publicity spotlight.
"After 10 years of hoping, everything is okay by me today," he said at one point.
Unseld left his usually well-guarded emotional wall unprotected on occasion, allowing a rare peak into the quiet man who the last decade has been the Bullets' foundation.
He smiled and then smiled some more. "It's painted on," he said while curling his lips up with his fingers. He patiently posed for pictures with both the car and his wife in front of the Plaza Hotel. "Kiss her," asked the photographers. "Get in the car and smile," they pleaded.
"Are they getting married," asked one elderly onlooker, part of a substantial street crowd that gathered to watch the presentation. "You mean, the tall guy?" asked her companion.
Unseld was on a honeymoon of sorts. It was his first fling with the benefits an athlete can reap from a world title. Without much hesitation, Unseld acknowledged he was beginning to enjoy the attention.
"The championship is the culmination of a lifelong dream" he said. "My father always told me he shouldn't leave me any money. But when I got a bad grade, he'd take me into the woodshed so I'd realize what he could leave me: Desire.
It took me 10 years to get this. There can be no greater feeling in anyone's personal life than to achieve his ultimate goal."
When the Bullets finally won, Unseld revealed that he didn't know how to react. After protecting his feelings from the public's eyes for so long, he was unsure of what to do.
"At first, I had a nonfeeling," he said. "I couldn't comprehend what it meant. Maybe I was supposed to slap hands and be jubilant and pour champagne on people's heads but I didn't feel like doing that.
"The parade through downtown last Friday helped. It began to sink into all of us what we had done. Now it's the best feeling I've had. I wish I could can it and keep it.
"I don't want to capitalize on the series.I just want to lay back and enjoy it as long as I can."
And so too does Connie Unself. She is as effervescent and emotional as her husband is calm and careful, and her feelings were bubbling over yesterday. "He tried to stay calm about all this," she said, "but after the last game, when Mr. (Abe) Pollin hugged him and he saw me crying; it affected him.
"Usually nothing bothers him. The kids and I drive him crazy, I know, but he never says a thing. It's incredible.
"We were married about a year when they lost the first final (1971) and I thought that was the way it went. Then, when it happened again in 1975, I felt awful. That's what makes this so great."
The Unselds have been going at a whilrwind pace since the seventh game triumph last Wednesday. Sunday, in the middle of celebrating that victory, their 5-year-old daughter had a ballet recital.
The Unselds will take a break from basketball and their children the next 10 days. They will vacation in Hawaii, a trip Wes promised his wife before the title, and then he will come home and think about retiring.
He claims he has not thought about it, but knows "I don't want to make a decision now."
"I don't know why I'd come back or why I wouldn't. Motivation might be a major reason. I've got the championship I want."
A friend, who has known Unseld for a decade, says Wes' physical condition won't be much of a factor in the decision.
"Physically, Wes wasn't harmed by this season at all," the friend said. "But mentally, it was draining. He has decided if he wants to put up with another season of teammates questioning his offensive ability and his role on the team.
"All those questions should be put to rest now he knows they won't be, just because he's 6-7 and doesn't score a lot. One day, he might get so tired of it, he'll say something he shouldn't. And he doesn't want to do that."
His supporters point out that, among all the Bullets, it was Unseld who put in the winning basket to knock off Philadelphia in the last game of the Eastern Conference finals and it was Unseld who made the last foul shots to seat Seattle' fate in the title round. During the seven-game title series, Unseld scored 63 points, pulled down 82 rebounds and had 27 assists.
"I've always said I could score more if the time came," said Unseld. "That's not my role on the team. It just gets to me sometimes when people overlook what I'm supposed to be doing. If I'm messing up my picks, then knock me. But if I'm not supposed to score, then how can my lack of scoring be criticized?"
But it wasn't a day for bringing up bad memories. He said he'd much rather savor the thoughts of Pollin and all those years "he would come into the dressing room before the playoffs started and give us encouragement. Then, when we lost he'd try to keep up our spirits.
"This year, I've never seen anyone happier than he was. And that made me feel good. Why? Well, besides the fact he pays you good, he's a hell of a nice guy. You like to see those kind of people finishfirst."