Neither flair nor finesse was ever a part of his game. Wes Unseld always chose to be a blue-collar worker, the gritty guy who did all the tough stuff quietly, with hardly any fanfare save from the basketball purists who knew how much he meant to his team.

The only behind-the-back passes he ever threw were accidental and he apoligized for them. He dunked the ball three times in the last seven years. The last one, late in the 1979-80 season, was such a shock that a reporter, in a take-off of a Darryl Dawkins dunking description, gave it a name.

It was called, "Tippy-toe straining, Unseld paining, nothing breaking, no one shaking, pray I can do it again Unseld I am jam."

Fundamentals and a cerebral approach to the game made Unseld the player he was, not to mention the most effective outlet passes in the history of the National Basketball Association.

Tonight, against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Capital Centre at 7:35, he will play his last game as a Bullet. It will be Wes Unseld Appreciation Night, honoring the team's captain and leader who will retire after the game and become a Bullet vice president.

Unseld already answers to the name of "Spiro," and laughs about it. But the almost unbearable pain in his knees is no laughing matter. He can barely walk. But he will suit up one last time and he will play. "I appreciate the fans just as much as they appreciate me," he said.

There doesn't seem to be a player or coach or even a fan anywhere who doesn't have the highest regard for Unseld. And now, as he leaves the game as an active player, the tributes are pouring in.

"He was the kind of guy you never had to worry about," said K.C. Jones, a former Bullet coach. ""He just did his job every night. He was a constant, someone you could depend on no matter what. He was a pleasure to have around. He was a great player, but even if he wasn't, he would have been valuable to his team."

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, perhaps the best center ever to play in the NBA, is at least seven inches taller than Unseld, but said he never felt like he could take advantage of the height advantage against Unseld, who says he is only 6 feet 6.

"Basketball is a game of position and Wes denies you the position you want," Abdul-Jabbar said. "My height may have been a disadvantage to him, but the way he played me, it never really worked as that much of an advantage for me. Unseld used the tools he had. I know I was sorer after a game against him than with some teams who used two and three people to beat on me."

Unseld didn't see eye to eye with Dick Motta, another former coach, but he never criticized him while Motta was still the coach and he did his best to understand Motta. He also never bucked him.

Motta's remembrances of his final season in Washington aren't all that pleasant, but his respect ffor Unseld remains.

"He is one of the smartest players I've even been around," Motta said. "He's like the big old bull on a farm. You just look at him and know not to mess with him. He just commands respect with his presence.

"He's a special person. The Bullets just won't be the same without him. They can get another center, but they'll never get another Unseld. People like him come along once in a franchise's history."

As Unseld's career comes to an end, his successor, Rick Mahorn, says he is just trying to provide some of the skills Unseld contributed for 13 seasons.

"I can't fill Wes' shoes," said Mahorn, a player of tremendous potential. ""We're talking about Wes Unseld. He's the man."

Unseld will be remembered as a burly center who couldn't shoot or jump, but no one seemed to notice. When the game was over, Wes Unseld had done his job.