Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1946, Wes starred for the Seneca High School team that won Kentucky state championships in 1963 and 1964. He attended Louisville for college and in 1965, he played center for the school's freshman team, averaging 35.8 points and 23.6 rebounds over 14 games. As a letterman, he led the Missouri Valley Conference in rebounding all three years.
In 1968, he was picked in the first round by the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA Draft. In his rookie campaign, he helped lead the Bullets (who had finished in last place in the Eastern division the previous year) to a 57–25 record and a division title. Unseld averaged 18.2 rebounds per game that year, and became only the second player ever to win both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season (Wilt Chamberlain being the first). Unseld was also named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team, and also claimed the Sporting News MVP that year. He was one of the best defensive players of his era, and in 1975, he led the NBA in rebounding.
Renowned for his rebounding, bone-jarring picks and outlet passes, Wes made up for his lack of size (6'7") with brute strength and sheer determination. Unseld took the Bullets franchise to four NBA Finals, and won the championship in 1978 over the Seattle SuperSonics (Finals MVP). For his career, played entirely for the Bullets, he averaged a double-double (10.8 points and 14.0 rebounds). He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988, named as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players of all time and was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.
After his retirement in 1981, he moved into a front office position with the Bullets, where he served as vice president for six years before beoming head coach (1987-94).