Life doesn't believe in sharing the wealth. Special people keep insisting on doing the special things. That's why it's no surprise to see that Wes Unseld, who was elected to the Hall of Fame yesterday, has finally provided the Bullets with a special coach.
As long as Unseld can endure the aggravations of bench life, the Bullets' graph is going to be headed upward. His arrival as coach is the best thing to happen to the franchise in 20 years -- since his arrival as a player.
Before Unseld came in '68, the Bullets were awful. He took them from last place to first in the Eastern Division in his rookie season. With him, they were contenders nearly every year, finalists twice and champions once. Since Unseld retired in '81, the franchise hasn't left a ripple. Funny coincidence.
In a month, Wesley the Wide already has shown he has four of the most basic requirements of an exceptional coach. He can motivate. He can simplify. He can discipline. And he has the kind of presence you can't buy. That's why victory scores like 136-107, 130-113, 115-91 and 131-99 have started snapping NBA eyes to attention.
Before Capital Centre fans could say, "Anybody remember how to spell L-O-U-G-H-E-R-Y?" Unseld had defined the role of every player on the team, consigned Charles Jones and Mark Alarie to the bench to thin out the sub clutter and told his three stars -- Moses Malone, Jeff Malone and Bernard King -- to start acting like stars and take over the club. "I expect big games from big guns," says Unseld.
Some might nag that, entering the NBA's all-star break, the Bullets have lost three straight games and have dropped four agonizingly close contests in their last five games. Let's not get carried away, you might protest; the Bullets are only 9-6 under Unseld. Granted that's a lot better than 8-19 under Kevin Lock-knee. About twice as good, actually.
Still, some might point out that, when last seen in the Centre on Wednesday night, Unseld was walking off the court in a purple funk, glowering at referee Howie Nunn over a game-changing away-from-the-ball call at midcourt that sure looked like the officiating equivalent of "in your face."
The aggravations of the past week may nettle Unseld, but they do not faze Unseld much. It's easier to upset an apartment building. Unseld is accustomed to setting much more far-sighted and ambitious goals than one game or one week. "With the officials, you just have to eat it. It's always been that way," he said. "After the game, I thanked 'em. Didn't say anything. We'll see 'em again.
"We are at a stage where we are not a good finishing team. We play hard enough to give ourselves a chance to win almost every game. And, in time, we'll win our share . . . The agenda I have set for myself is right on course. First, I wanted us to play hard. And we are. Second, I wanted us to play well. That will take more time."
To note that the Bullets, heretofore a lackadaisical team, have raised their intensity for Unseld would be an understatement. At the moment, most Bullets appear to try most of the time. A few actually look like they care. Frank Johnson cried in defeat.
"At the first meeting, I told them, 'Now, my butt is on the line. The next person being booed out of here will be me. And I'm not going to let that happen,' " says Unseld, quickly adding that "everybody's responded very well."
Even Moses Malone. In Cleveland recently, Malone, who's proud that he has not fouled out of a game in 10 years, had five personals and was playing soft, self-protective defense. Unseld told him to be more aggressive. When Malone didn't, Unseld benched him for the final five minutes. With another coach, that might have meant war. But the feeling Malone has for Unseld goes deeper than respect; it's more like a head-to-toe bruise. Perhaps no two NBA players ever beat each other up with more relish than these super rebounders. "I have no problems at all with Moses," says Unseld. That might already make him the leader in that category among Malone coaches.
Having stood up to Moses, probably without even giving it a second thought, Unseld has had no trouble reaching the heads of others with his telltale scowl of controlled but menacing irritability. "If for whatever reasons, someone can't or won't do what we want done, we'll get somebody in who will," says Unseld. "You'll see me jerk people out even though it looks like they're playing well, if they're not conforming to our total concept of the game."
Yes, sir, coach, sir, I will block my man off the boards much better, sir.
For the last two years, the only sound at courtside was Loughery whining like a Ferrari at officials. His own players got little heat. Now, the officials' ears can rest. If Hot Rod Williams comes over Terry Catledge's back for an offensive rebound, Unseld doesn't get mad at the refs, he chews out Catledge. "Terry, you gonna get him off your back?" asks Unseld as the play continues. Then, during a timeout, Unseld takes Catledge aside for a demonstration of how an elbow can knock a man's crewcut sideways and help you get a few more rebounds.
"People are climbing over us on the offensive boards," says Unseld. "There's a way to stop it and we're going to stop it. Otherwise, every team will see they can do it."
All coaches say the same things. But only some get obeyed. All coaches try to go back to basics and underline their team's strengths, but few actually have the conviction to stick to their guns. All coaches claim they are firm with million-dollar stars, but few are. All coaches try to convey the courtside impression that victory follows them around like a pet pup. But not many pull it off.
Some men hope for success. Those like Unseld, who would find it almost incomprehensible if they failed, are the ones who tend to achieve it. This week, Unseld was named NBA coach of the month for January. Was he delighted?
"Been in the league 20 years," he said, utterly uninterested. "First time I knew there was a coach of the month."
Wes Unseld, as usual, might be aiming just a little higher.