The game was meaningless. The event was not.
Wes Unseld, the Washington Bullets' captain and leader, played his final game last night after 13 seasons in the National Basketball Association.
He started, played less than two minutes, made his only shot and had one rebound.
A crowd of 12,755 came out not to see the Bullets beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 138-103, but to honor their retiring hero on Wes Unseld Appreciation Night.
The victory did not enable the Bullets to equal last season's 39-43 record and Kevin Porter clinched his fourth NBA assist title. He had 18 after beginning the game as the league leader, averaging 8.95 a game. Porter also had 27 points and three steals.
Rick Mahorn, who will take Unseld's place as the Bullet center next season, scored a career high 28 points, had 16 rebounds and blocked a shot.
"No one will take Wes' place," Mahorn said. "I'll go out and try to play my game and if I do half as good as he did I'll be fine."
Unseld hadn't played in the last four games because it is painful for him even to walk. One of his legs has troubled him for 10 seasons, and this season the other wore out. But there was no way Unseld would miss playing last night. He said he felt he owed it to the fans.
He said he never wanted a "night," but since it meant so much to so many others he agreed -- with the stipulation that this favorite charities benefit. Owner Abe Pollin agreed, and a portion of the proceeds from each ticket was give to Children's Hospital in Washington and Kernan Hospital in Baltimore.
The anticipation and excitement mounted as the starters were introduced. First Greg Ballard, then Elvin Hayes, then Porter, then Don Collins. Finally, public address announcer Marv Brooks said, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, for his final start in a Bullet uniform, No. 41, 6-foot-7, from Louisville, Wes Unnnnseld."
The large crowd gave a long, standing ovation. Unseld, wearing two bulky knee braces and old-fashioned, high-top canvas basketball shoes, slowly started out to join the other starters, then lumbered into a trot.
After returning to the bench for last-second instructions from Coach Gene Shue, amid the roar of the crowd, Unseld walked to the foul line and, with his head down, almost like a shy little boy, waved and smiled to another ovation.
It was only fitting that the first time they had the ball was Bullets called a play for Unseld, something rarely done. From the left side of the lane, he made a short turning hook shot over Bill Laimbeer.
It took Unseld only 12 seconds into his final game for him to score his last points.
Scoring has never been Unseld's strong suit, though. A minute later he blocked Laimbeer off the boards, rebounded and threw a 45-foot outlet, pass to Porter.
That was Wes Unseld.
Thirty seconds later Mahorn replaced him. Unseld slowly walked to the end of the Bullet bench, pulled down the brace that had protected his swollen right knee, put a towel over his leg, put his warm-up top back on, crossed his arms and leaned forward to watch.
His playing days were over.
The halftime ceremony was a moving tribute to Unseld and his family. Present were his wife Connie and his two children, Kim and Westley, his mother, his wife's parents, Unseld's two sisters and four brothers and his wife's brother and sister.
It started with a salute on Telescreen chronicling Unseld's life and his career. Representing the National Basketball Association, Commissioner Larry O'Brien presented Unseld with some pewter cups and a check for his charities. The Washington Capitals, represented by capitain Ryan Walter, also presented Unseld with a check for his charities.
Unseld hadn't wanted personal gifts, but he got some anyway. His teammates gave him a large easy chair and Pollin gave him a hugh projector sceen television, a gold watch ("so he'll get to work as a vice president on time") and a check to his two charities for $10,000.
When Unseld finally made it to the microphone at the end of the 30-minute ceremony, he fist apologized for holding up the game, then, in a poignant speech, thanked his family, the Bullets and the fans for all of their support.
"I'm going to do the toughest thing I've ever done now: take off this uniform and never put it on again," Unseld said. "God bless you and thank you, very, very much."