Unseld gets NBA top 50 tip Former Bullets great takes honor in stride

BOWIE — BOWIE -- When Washington Bullets vice president Wes Unseld was asked yesterday what it's like being named one of the best players in basketball history, you may as well have asked him the time of day -- the reaction probably would have been the same.

"I would love to give you a bunch of grandiose words about how I feel," said Unseld, a former NBA Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year who was voted into the Hall of Fame after a 13-year career. "But, as usual, when these things happen to me I don't know how I feel. Personal awards do not mean a lot to me."


So today will probably be another ho-hum day for Unseld when the NBA names him as one of its 50 greatest players. The announcement, in conjunction with the league's 50th anniversary, will be made at a news conference in New York today.

Also included on the list are former Bullets Elvin Hayes, Earl Monroe, Moses Malone and Dave Bing.


Unseld led the team to 12 straight playoff appearances and managed to excel despite being an undersized center (6 feet 7). In 1978, Unseld was the MVP of the NBA Finals when the Bullets won the only championship in franchise history.

Unseld's achievements came while playing against some of the all-time great centers who also are included on the list -- Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. A physical player who mastered the outlet pass and excelled at rebounding, Unseld is one of just two players to win the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards in the same season (Chamberlain is the other).

When pressed, even Unseld admitted that it was an honor to be included.

"I am delighted that something like this happened -- to be considered with some of those people is quite an honor," he said. "I am thrilled and humbled by it."

The list is the result of a panel of 50 experts who were asked by the league to vote on the 50 greatest players in NBA history. Included among the panel were team executives, coaches, media members and some of the all-time greats. The players on the list are not rated.

There are 11 active NBA players on the list: Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Robert Parish, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson and John Stockton.

Of course, the inclusion of some names and the exclusion of others leaves the list open to debate. There's also the debate about whether stars of previous eras could be as effective in the modern-day game where athletes are bigger, faster and stronger.

Bullets assistant coach Clifford Ray, who yesterday included Chamberlain, Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar, Rick Barry and Julius Erving among his all-time top five, said the 7-foot-1 Chamberlain would dominate today.


"No question, I still think Wilt was the greatest player of his day," Ray said. "Look at how O'Neal dominates today, and Chamberlain had just as much athletic ability as O'Neal."

When Bullets coach Jim Lynam was asked to name his top five, he instead insisted on six: Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Chamberlain, Russell, Erving and Jordan.

"And all I need are six," Lynam said. "You could put empty seats on the other six spots, and we would still win."

Unseld said he would like to think he would be just as effective today.

"We always think the best era is the one in which we operate in," Unseld said. "There's no way you can calculate how dominant those guys might be today. But to me that was the best back then. I don't think there's any doubt that guys who played then can play now."

BULLETS NOTES: Juwan Howard, who played just one preseason game because of shin splints, ran drills with the team yesterday and may attempt to scrimmage today. "I know for a fact I'm playing [in the opener Friday], and I'm looking forward to it," Howard said. Chris Webber (sore left ankle) and Rod Strickland (flu) also practiced. Gheorghe Muresan (hip flexor) did some running, and hopes to begin practicing later this week.


The top 50

The top 50 NBA players all-time, as determined by a league panel of 50 experts, and the number of times selected an All-Star (listed in alphabetical order):

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 19

Nate Archibald, 6

Paul Arizin, 10

Charles Barkley, 10


Rick Barry, 8

Elgin Baylor, 11

Dave Bing, 7

Larry Bird, 12

Wilt Chamberlain, 13

Bob Cousy, 13


Dave Cowens, 7

Billy Cunningham, 4

Dave DeBusschere, 8

Clyde Drexler, 9

Julius Erving, 11

Patrick Ewing, 10


Walt Frazier, 7

George Gervin, 9

Hal Greer, 10

John Havlicek, 13

Elvin Hayes, 12

Magic Johnson, 12


Sam Jones, 5

Michael Jordan, 10

Jerry Lucas, 7

Karl Malone, 9

Moses Malone, 12

Pete Maravich, 5


Kevin McHale, 7

George Mikan, 4

Earl Monroe, 4

Hakeem Olajuwon, 11

Shaquille O'Neal, 4

Robert Parish, 9


Bob Pettit, 11

Scottie Pippen, 6

Willis Reed, 7

Oscar Robertson, 12

David Robinson, 7

Bill Russell, 12


Dolph Schayes, 12

Bill Sharman, 8

John Stockton, 8

Isiah Thomas, 12

Nate Thurmond, 7

Wes Unseld, 5


Bill Walton, 2

Jerry West, 14

Lenny Wilkens, 9

James Worthy, 7

Close, but...

Some notable players left off the NBA's top 50 list:


Walt Bellamy, Adrian Dantley, Walter Davis, Alex English, Artis Gilmore, Cliff Hagan, Tom Heinsohn, Bailey Howell, Dan Issel, Dennis Johnson, Gus Johnson, Neil Johnston, Bernard King, Bob Lanier, Ed Macauley, Bob McAdoo, Gene Shue, David Thompson, Jack Twyman, Chet Walker, Dominique Wilkins

Jerry Bembry's top 10 players

1. Michael Jordan: What can't Michael do? Not only does he have the ability, but he also plays with a desire that is unmatched by anyone in the game today.

2. Wilt Chamberlain: The most dominant center in NBA history averaged a remarkable 50.4 points during the 1961-62 season and 22.9 rebounds a game for his career.

3. Magic Johnson: At 6 feet 9, a remarkable passer who redefined the point guard position and helped the Lakers win five NBA titles during the 1980s.

4. Bill Russell: At 6-9 1/2 , not as big as other dominant centers, but Russell was a great rebounder (averaged 22.5 for his career) and shot blocker who won 11 NBA titles in 13 years.


5. Oscar Robertson: Averaged a triple double during the 1961-62 season, and had career marks of 25.7 ppg, 9.5 apg and 7.5 rpg.

6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: His sky hook was the best "money" shot in the history of basketball.

7. Larry Bird: For a guy who lacked quickness or jumping ability, Bird was one of the most feared players and helped the Celtics to three titles in the 1980s -- one of basketball's most competitive decades.

8. Jerry West: Had a sweet shot, and also was one of the best defensive guards in the league.

9. Julius Erving: We will include his pro career as a whole in naming him to the top 10. It's a pity many fans never saw him at his best, in his five seasons in the ABA.

10. George Mikan: Was basketball's first dominant big man (6-10) and led the Minneapolis Lakers to six championships (four in the NBA) in his eight years with the team.


Pub Date: 10/29/96