"He is unique. There will never be another Wes Unseld in this league -- not in this day and age. No one will stay than many years with the same franchise and accumulate those stats." -- Bill Fitch
A unique man requires unique stats, for as the Boston Celtics' coach suggests it is impossible to imagine -- in all of sport -- a more revered player with fewer obvious credentials than Wes Unseld.
It has taken him almost all of his 12 years in the National Basketball Association to push his scoring total past 10,000 points. In one year less, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has nearly 2 1/2 times as many points. In the history of NBA, three dozen men have played either as long as Unseld, or slightly less, and scored more.
But there are numbers -- new ones but understandably crude -- that help explain what everyone has called "the intangibles" -- and why Unseld is destined not for the Hall of Fame but for a place even more special.
In a bullet loss that was more fun to watch than many of their victories this season, Tuesday against the Celtics, a fellow kept his eyes riveted on Unseld and tried to measure his value in such fresh and significant areas as:
Picks -- 21.
Box-outs -- 8.
Leans -- 6.
Passes that led to assists -- 3.
Picks set but unused -- 5.
Inbounds passes under pressure -- 2.
Keep alives -- 3.
Outlet passes -- 3.
And the most important of all:
Minutes rested -- 5.
No sports rewards fan laziness quite like basketball. Partly because at its best pro basketball is so swift it requires exceptional descipline to fully appreciate what an Unseld means to a team.
He exhausts countless defenders simply by setting picks like a column of marble and leaning like a 300-pound napsack. He makes the tough passes in the final moments of a game, never stops trying to keep the ball in play and triggers a fast break for anyone who chooses to run.
And even more subtle things.
"He won't curse a teammate on the floor," said former Bullet Coach K. C. Jones. "Or not throw the ball to a certain teammate," Jones added, smiling. "The normal things you see around the league."
And yet, ever since much of the NBA began whispering that he was beginning to play old -- or about the time Mitch Kupchak started to intrude on his turf -- Unseld has improved in the categories as unmistakable as, well, Unseld himself.
His scoring each of the last two years has been greater than each of the two prior years. With 1,065, he seems certain to end the season with more rebounds than in any other of the seven years the team has been in Washington.
When others who either cannot play -- or will not play -- have been absent so often, Unseld rarely rests. This season has been so ominous for so long that team officials lately have urged him to miss a game or so to be with his seriously ill father in Louisville.
A trip to the playoffs might be as embarrassing to this team as missing them, but Unseld refuses to quit. This is overwhelming evidence in support of what many of us have felt for so long -- that far from being aloof about his work, Unseld is as quietly driven as anyone.
"He's happy with himself," Jones said. "He does not have to apologize to anyone.Lots of players making as much or more money are unhappy. Look around."
In a fit of frustration, an NBA veteran who has at times been the epitome of selfishness and selflessness once inquired: "What is it you reporters have about Unseld? Why isn't he ever criticized? Why does the blame always go somewhere else?"
Because the glory also nearly always goes elsewhere. When has a Capital Centre crowd chanted "Wes, Wes" or, in the surest indication of affection, coined an appropriate nickname? Imagine anyone ever saying: "Let's go out and watch Unseld set picks tonight."
"He's been a scapegoat so often," Jones said. "People saying you couldn't win a title with a 6-8 center. Or that you couldn't win the title with a center who can't shoot. But he's taken all that and kept going. He's weathered all the criticism.
"He could score if he had to. But he has mastered the art of playing this game. Like (Bill) Russell did. And Quinn Buckner and Dave Myers and maybe one or two others do now.
"The best thing I can say is that he cares. In my mind, he's majestic."
If one number has obsessed Unseld this year, it would be 12. He probably is most proud of the Bullets making the playoff's each of his 11 years, a distinction more rare than even serious fans might realize.
It generally is assumed that players must conspire to avoid the playoffs, even though the NBA has seen no back-to-back champion since Russell retired. But not all of Abdul-Jabbar's teams have made the playoffs. Nor the ones with Dave Cowens as the bub. Or Rick Barry's. Or Moses Malone's. Or George Gervin's.
But in 13 of his 15 NBA years, Paul Silas has been in the playoffs. Like Unseld's , his teams win.
In truth, a team's performance in the regular season probably is more significant than what it does in the playoffs. To be consistently excellent in so many games that simply mean little is an Unseldian feat.
"History will not remember him," Jones said. "Unfortunately. You look at the Hall of Fame and mostly you find shooters, not the reasons teams win championships. It would be a miracle if he's considered for the Hall of Fame.
"And also right."