Washington Wizards honor late Wes Unseld by announcing project to help renovate Unselds’ School in Baltimore

March 14 was Wes Unseld’s birthday. It was also Pie Day.

Since the 1990s, the late Baltimore Bullets Hall of Fame center celebrated his birthday by baking or ordering pies to be delivered to the Unselds’ School in Baltimore that he and his wife Connie opened in 1978. The pies were a culinary tool to preach to the students the significance of 3.14 – the mathematical proof also known as Pi and π that is defined as the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.


“He’d have a big math lesson,” recalled Kim Unseld, his daughter and principal of the Unselds’ School. “He would write the entire number out as far as it would go on the chalkboard and then tell the students, ‘If you don’t have it memorized…’ They would all freak out like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to remember all of this?’ But he would come in with big pieces of pie. One time, he had a McDonald’s around the corner deliver 200 cherry and apple pies, and he was giving out pies to everyone.”

So it seemed fitting that on what would have been Unseld’s 76th birthday, the Washington Wizards announced a plan to help renovate the Unselds’ School as part of its legacy campaign to celebrate the NBA’s 75th anniversary.


The project, which will be unveiled next month, includes installing teaching areas, learning gardens, eco-friendly benches and stools, and murals in an outdoor courtyard where the students play and participate in school activities. The plan will also entail building a parent lounge area, updating school signage, and erecting in the lobby a memorial dedicated to Unseld, who died on June 2, 2020.

Kim Unseld, whose brother Wes Unseld Jr. is the head coach of the Wizards, said her father would have balked at the attention.

“My father probably would have been delighted to be acknowledged, but he really felt that with all of the basketball, he just enjoyed playing the game,” she said. “As he always said, ‘If you know the rules of the game, play.’ This, however, was another part of him that very few people truly understand how much he embraced. This was more about children getting to the best of their abilities and receiving a good education and being self-starters and lifelong learners. That was my dad more than anything.”

Washington is footing the $25,000 bill for the enhancements, and team owner Ted Leonsis said the franchise wanted to honor Unseld, the Hall of Famer who served as the organization’s vice president, head coach and general manager after his playing career ended in 1981.

“The celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the NBA provided us the perfect opportunity to continue to shine a spotlight on Wes — as he was named to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team of all-time greatest players — and highlight the school that he and Connie started as a labor of love more than 40 years ago,” Leonsis said via email. “Wes poured as much of himself into this school as he did into his play of basketball and into his leadership as part of then-Bullets’ front office operations. Upon retirement from basketball, he was a known fixture at the school — he drove buses to field trips, served lunches to the students, and was a regular morning greeter, just to ensure each child felt exceptionally loved.”

Connie Unseld, who had been married to her husband for 50 years, said she approved of the project to educate current and future generations of students about the crucial role he played in the school’s beginnings.

“I wanted the children to know that the Unselds’ School was more than just me just because I’m here every day and they see me in the administration and as a teacher,” said Unseld, the school’s director and English and math teacher. “I didn’t want them to forget the fact that Mr. Unseld was the reason for the school. Without him, we couldn’t exist, and we couldn’t have even been established. When I asked him, ‘Could I do this?,’ he said unequivocally yes. He said, ‘I’m going to support you because you supported me, and I think it’s a splendid suggestion, and I’m happy to do it.’ So we went into partnership.”

Kim Unseld said she was too old to attend the school, which instructs grades one through eight. But she said her brother was the school’s first graduate.


“He was serious, and I don’t think that came lightly from my mom or my dad,” she said of her father. “They were very serious about their education, the education that they saw was needed, their ability to travel the world and see children learning in different environments and bring that focus home here.”

Connie Unseld said her husband often greeted students when they arrived in the morning and would quiz them on their spelling and math before classes began.

“He was, yes, a wonderful basketball player, but he was a man that was committed to quality in education,” she said. “He believed that children should be in a climate for learning and that they should be exposed to all sorts of activities. That is what we do here, and without him, it couldn’t have happened.”

That Washington could pay tribute to Unseld by focusing on his school in the city where he spent much of his playing career seemed appropriate to Leonsis.

“Baltimore is such a special place for us, and we sought to remind fans of our deep history with the city — which we integrated in our City Edition jersey for this season,” he wrote. “And we started this season with an open practice at Morgan State University — and will be back towards the end of the season when we cut the ribbon on this renovation in April and bring it full circle.”

The coronavirus pandemic has reduced the student body at the Unselds’ School to 20 — less than a third of its pre-COVID enrollment. But Kim Unseld, who lost her sight 12 years ago, said she feels confident the school will rebound.


She is just as confident that her father would have appreciated the Wizards’ contributions.

“I’m sure he would have with a wink of the eye,” she said. “Of course, he had a game face, and we all know that game face. So he’d give you the illusion, ‘Look, I’m going to tear your throat out,’ but with the children, my father would always have a lighthearted laugh and a ho-ho-ho. Kids would say to him, ‘You’re the Jolly Green Giant,’ and he would say, ‘Yup.’”