Wes Unseld told Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin before the start of training camp this season that he was ready to retire.
Pollin and General Manager Bob Ferry asked him not to. "We need you one more year," they said.
Unseld always has had a tough time saying no.
So, on virtually one good leg, and that one deteriorating rapidly, Unseld returned for one more season, not because he wanted to, but because he felt he was needed.
Unseld, 35, said Monday he was retiring at the end of this season and the Bullets, as expected, made the formal announcement at a news conference yesterday at Capital Centre.
The unexpected, even to Unseld, came when Pollin announced he was naming Unseld a vice president of the Bullets and of Capital Centre.
"I don't know what his duties will be, but I know I want him around," Polin said. "For 13 seasons he has been a credit to the Bullets, basketball and everyone who has ever known him. There isn't a finer human being anywhere."
Unseld said he had no idea Pollin was going to make him a vice president; that he had planned to simply walk away from basketball.
Unseld always has tried to avoid attention, so he was visibly embarrassed by the attention he received yesterday.
Pollin also announced that Sunday, March 29, would be Wes Unseld Appreciation Night at Capital Centre when the Bullets play the Cleveland Cavaliers in their final game this season, and Unseld's last in a Bullet uniform.
Unseld said he didn't want a night, said he didn't feel worthy of gifts being lavished on him.
Pollin, who knows and understands Unseld as well as anymore, will do it Unseld's way. He said a portion of the proceeds from each ticket sold for the Cleveland game will be shared equally by Kernan Hospital in Baltimore and by Children's Hospital in Washington, the charities of Unseld's choice.
This has been a long, frustrating and painful season for Unseld, yet he never complained, or made excuses when he played below the standards he had set for himself.
"I like to compete," he said. "It's often been said that I don't look like I'm having fun, but I like to go out and knock heads with people. I've always gone out and tried to make sure that the person I was guarding wasn't the reason for us losing."
In his second season in the National Basketball Association, Unseld had an operation on his left knee. He had to make major adjustments in his game.
"All right-handed people do things off their left foot," he said. "But when I hurt my left leg, I couldn't anymore, so I had to all of a sudden switch and do things off my right leg. It's awkward, but I had to do it if I wanted to keep playing. I knew it was only a matter of time before my right leg wore out. I'm surprised it lasted this long."
Gus Johnson was the star of the Bullets when Unseld was a timid -- "Yes, timid," says Johnson -- rookie. "At first," Johnson added.
Johnson took an immediate liking to Unseld.
"I used to call him a Southern gentleman," Johnson said. "He was an all-American individual, yet he was down to earth at the same time.
"As a player he was strong and intelligent. Inch for inch and pound for pound, there will never be another who could hold office like he could. The lane was his kitchen."
At least until his duties as vice president are defined, Unseld said, there are a number of things he would like to do.
"Financially I'm set so I don't have to work," she said. "I can do pretty much what I want to. That's the way I set it up while I was playing. Right now I want to see if I can do something else besides play basketball."
Just as he was a unique player, Unseld is a unique person. He never ran with the crowd.
"He's called me every night he's been away for a long as I can remember," his wife, Connie, said. "He's not a real talker. He just calls to see if everything is all right. Whatever I was doing he was interested in hearing about it."
She sensed this was her husband's last year playing months ago when the pain in his knees often would keep him awake all night.
"He'd go to bed and wait for me to go to sleep and then get up and put ice on his knees all night," she said. "He just didn't want me to know how much pain he was in. I knew, though, because I would see the ice bags in the morning and I could tell by looking at him. He never said anything, though."
Unseld said his biggest thrill as a player was winning the seventh game of the NBA championship series in Seattle in 1978; that his most memorable season was his first, when he was both the league's rookie of the year and most valuable player.
The type of person Unseld is and the type of player he was is typified by the five-man all-star team he picks from current players.
"My guards would be Kevin Porter (Bullets) and Michael Ray Richardson (New York Knicks); the center would be Moses Malone (Houston) and the forwards would be Marques Johnson (Milwaukee) and Bobby Jones (Philadelphia).
"They might not be the best scorers in the game, but they all work hard at more than just scoring and they sacrifice some of their individual talent for the betterment of their teams."
Certainly Unseld will be remembered best for his outlet passes and his fierce rebounding, even though he is only 6 feet 6. But he says he wants to be remembered as one who played intelligently.
"The most dominant ability for a basketball player is to be able to think on the court," Unseld said. "Height, strength and jumping ability are important, but if you can think, you can offset your physical liabilities. I guess I'm a real live example of that."