"Wes Unseld is a champion. Whether it is on the basketball court or as an executive, Unseld knows how to win."

-- 1987-88 Washington Bullets Media Guide

This is important. Because last night Wes Unseld inherited a team that is not a champion and seems to have forgotten how to win.

Unseld, who was named to replace the fired Kevin Loughery, becomes the Bullets' 11th head coach. He also becomes the fifth black currently serving as an NBA head coach, joining K.C. Jones of the Boston Celtics, Bernie Bickerstaff of the Seattle SuperSonics, Bill Russell of the Sacramento Kings and Lenny Wilkins of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Loughery had served as the Bullets' coach since March 19, 1986, when he replaced Gene Shue. The club won seven of 13 games to finish the 1985-86 season with a 39-43 record. Last season it finished 42-40, this season it is 8-19.

Unseld has seen this type of situation before. The Bullets, who had never had a winning season before choosing him in the first round of the 1968 draft, improved from 36-46 in the 1967-68 season to 57-25 in 1968-69. When that season ended, Unseld became the only player in NBA history other than Wilt Chamberlain to be selected as the league's rookie of the year and most valuable player in the same season.

But Unseld's success didn't stop there. And neither did the Bullets'.

With the 6-foot-7 center from Louisville as their leader, the Bullets went on to participate in 12 consecutive NBA playoffs and win the 1977-78 championship series, of which he was named the most valuable player.

Unseld, who retired following the 1980-81 season, is the club's all-time leader in games played, minutes played, rebounds and assists. He is second to Elvin Hayes in scoring and is among the club's top five all-time in nine other statistical categories.

By the time he departed as a player, Unseld's personal credentials were so well established (in 1975, he was the first recipient of the Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, given annually to the NBA player or coach who has made the greatest civic contribution to his community), he was hired immediately as a club vice president.

He served solely in that capacity until Aug. 4, when -- at Loughery's urging -- he returned to the court as a full-time assistant coach.

He replaced Fred Carter, who left the Bullets for a similar position with the Philadelphia 76ers, and joined Bill Blair, who will be encouraged to stay on, Unseld said last night.

Before that time, Unseld, who retained the title of vice president, had expressed a reluctance to leave the front office.

The day he became an assistant, Unseld said, "When I retired, I had an opportunity to become an assistant coach right away. But I wanted, at the time, to prove to myself that I could successfully do something else.

"I hadn't even thought about {coaching} when Kevin first came to me about three or four weeks ago and asked if I would consider it. I was enjoying the administrative challenges and I had been very comfortable after taking a while to learn all the steps.

"There were a lot of things I had to look at. But after talking it over with my family -- it took a lot of thought -- I figured I'd try it. It's what I know most about and I hope I can help."

Last night Pollin said Unseld would remain the club's coach until the end of this season. And it appeared Unseld would be able to retain the job beyond that point, depending on how well the Bullets perform and how well Unseld likes being their coach.

"He'll have the job at least until the end of the {season}," Pollin said. "We'll see how he likes it and how we like him."

Since Pollin assumed sole ownership of the Bullets in July 1968, only Loughery's tenure has been less than three seasons. Gene Shue, who became coach of the Baltimore Bullets early in the 1966-67 season, remained through 1972-73. During those six-plus seasons, the club participated in its first NBA final series (1970-71, when it was defeated, 4-0, by the Milwaukee Bucks).

His successor, K.C. Jones, took over in June 1973, coached during the club's only season as the Capital Bullets, then led the Washington Bullets to the franchise's best record (60-22) and its second appearance in the finals in 1974-75 (in which it was defeated, 4-0, by Golden State).

He was fired following the next season, during which the Bullets went 48-34, but were eliminated in the first round of playoffs by Cleveland. Dick Motta then took over and led the club to two NBA finals in four seasons and its only world championship (1977-78) before resigning following the 1979-80 season. At that point, Shue was rehired. He lasted until being replaced by Loughery.