Wes Unseld led the Washington Bullets to the title on June 7, 1978. Focus on Sport via Getty Images

June 7 in sports history: Wes is more

Here's a look back at notable sports news on June 7 through the years:


1978: The Washington Bullets made the NBA playoffs for 10 straight seasons from 1968 to 1978. In that time, they moved down the Beltway from Baltimore to D.C., changed their city name twice (Baltimore to Capital to Washington), won three Eastern Conference titles, six division titles and suffered nothing but heartbreak. There were only two consistent things about the franchise — the nickname and Wes Unseld.

As formidable as the team was, the Bullets were always bridesmaids, watching other teams marry themselves to the NBA title. It almost happened again, but riding the wave of a 35-point demolition of the Seattle SuperSonics in Game 6, Washington’s men finally broke through with a tough 105-99 Game 7 win on the road in the NBA Finals.

No team had ever won a Finals Game 7 on the road until 2016 when the Cleveland Cavaliers took the crown in Oakland from the Golden State Warriors. Even better, the Bullets’ 44 regular-season wins meant that they were often without home-court advantage in the playoffs.

Despite amazing efforts from Seattle’s Fred Brown, Marvin Webster and Jack Sikma, they could not make up for Dennis Johnson’s 0-of-14 night on the floor. In the last two minutes of the fourth, the Sonics cut a 11-point deficit to two, only for Paul Silas’ foul on Unseld to work against them. Unseld, far from a great free-throw shooter, knocked down two from the charity stripe to help seal the win.

"What made the championship so great was that we weren’t supposed to win it,” head coach Dick Motta, whose adopted mantra about the opera became a fan theme, said at the time. “We came a long way. Most people didn’t give us a chance, but I felt all along we could. I really did."

Frontcourt mates Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandrigde had superior numbers, but Unseld’s great defense and veteran leadership put a Finals MVP to his trophy case. In Game 7, the undersized Hall of Fame center scored 15 points, grabbed nine boards and had six assists, keeping the ball moving in Washington’s balanced attack.

Unseld, the only player to win Rookie of the Year and league MVP in the same season, died on June 2 at the age of 74.

A CUP ‘O JOE

1997: The 1990s were an era of parity of sorts for the NHL. With a few periods of expansion considered, only eight franchises won the Stanley Cup between 1955 and 1990. When the 1996-97 season began, five different teams had captured Lord Stanley’s chalice in the ongoing decade, and the Detroit Red Wings were lucky enough to be next in line. Real lucky.

Despite only winning 38 games that season, the Wings not only nabbed the third seed in the Western Conference, but made their second Cup Final in three seasons after a slog of a six-game conference final against the Colorado Avalanche. And when they got there, they steamrolled the heavily favored Philadelphia Flyers in a sweep. The Wings raised the Cup for the first time in 42 years — doing so at their home in Joe Louis Arena — after a tense 2-1 win. Nicklas Lidstrom and Darren McCarty scored for Detroit while Eric Lindros scored his only goal of the series for Philly.

Game 4 was particularly sweet for Detroit’s Mike Vernon, who took the brunt of the blame a year before in the team’s disappointing playoff run. Vernon took home the Conn Smythe for playoff MVP, allowing just six goals (.944 save percentage) in the four games.

BROKEN HART-ED

1989: Wayne Gretzky took home his ninth Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player, edging out Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux and Detroit’s Steve Yzerman. With 58 goals and 168 points, The Great One had a phenomenal first season with the Los Angeles Kings, helping California’s then-only NHL team improve by 12 wins and 23 points from the previous season.

But should he have won the honors? Super Mario disagreed, telling the media that “in the past, they gave the Hart Trophy to the best player or top scorer. … I don’t know why that changed.” Lemieux certainly had a point — he led the NHL in scoring with 85 goals and had the most points in a season by a player other than Gretzky with 199 (fifth all-time).

LE CHAMPION

1980: After taking two months off tour to spend blissed time with her husband, the newly married Chris Evert (Lloyd) came back strong to win her fourth French Open championship, beating Romania’s Virginia Ruzici 6-0, 6-3.

1981: Bjorn Borg defeated Ivan Lendl in a grueling men’s final to capture his fourth straight French Open title, 6-1, 4-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1. With multiple long rallies and close calls, the Swede needed more than three hours to dispatch the Lendl, who was himself a three-time champion. This would be Borg’s final trophy at Roland Garros, with only Rafael Nadal winning more titles in the Open era with 12.

2009: After three straight final losses to Nadal, Roger Federer defeated Robin Söderling 6-1, 7-6, 6-4 for his first and only French Open title. “Maybe my greatest victory — or certainly the one that takes the most pressure off my shoulders,” the Swiss superstar said upon completing his career Grand Slam. “I can really play with my mind at peace and no longer here that I’ve never won at Roland Garros.”

2014: Recently retired Maria Sharapova won her second French Open and fifth Grand Slam title, defeating the emerging Simona Halep 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4. It was her third straight final in Paris — and her most challenging. ”If someone told me that … at some stage in my career, I’d have more Roland Garros titles than any other Grand Slam, I’d probably go get drunk.”

IN HINDSIGHT…

1966: The New York Mets selected catcher Steve Chilcott as the first overall pick in Major League Baseball’s second-ever amateur draft. Chilcott suffered a plague of injuries in the minors, however, and never suited up for the team. After being released in 1971, he played 24 minor league games in the Yankees system before hanging up the cleats.

With the second pick, the Kansas City A’s selected outfielder Reggie Jackson.

“Remember that name, Chilcott,” Cleveland’s president Gabe Paul said of the young backstop at the time. “He’s going to be a great baseball player. Jackson will, too.” Chilcott is one of four top picks to never play in the majors, while “Mr. October” was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1993.

Happy birthday...


Happy 45th birthday, AI. Yong Kim/Philadelphia Daily News/MCT/Sipa USA
  • Former NBA star Allen Iverson , first overall draft pick by the Philadelphia 76ers, in 1996. Iverson played 12 years in the league, leading the Sixers to the Finals in 2001 and earning Rookie of the Year and MVP honors as well as a scoring title over the course of his career. Iverson was not without controversy, often clashing with players and coaches and making headlines for run-ins with the law. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016. (45)
  • Russian tennis player Anna Kournikova , who reached as high as No. 8 in world rankings. Most of her on-court success was in doubles play with partner Martina Hingis. She once starred in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue. (39)
  • Terance Mathis , former NFL wide receiver who is third all-time in receiving yards for the Atlanta Falcons. Mathis caught a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXIII. (53)
  • NHL Hall of Famer Mike Modano , who is the all-time leader in goals and points by an American-born player. Modano helped lead Dallas to the 1999 Stanley Cup, playing most of the games with a broken wrist. Modano was chosen first overall in the 1988 NHL Draft. (50)

R.I.P.

2008: Sportscaster Jim McKay, whose infamous “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports” and “the thrill of victory and agony of defeat” were heard each week as the host of ABC’s "Wide World of Sports." McKay also covered several Olympics, including the 1972 Munich Games where he delivered the tragic news of the killing of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists. McKay won several Emmy Awards for his work. He was 86.

2011: Jose Pagan, former big leaguer who drove in what turned out to be the winning run for Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the 1971 World Series. Pagan also served as a Pirates coach for five years. He died of Alzheimer’s at 76.


June 6: Dirty laundry? McHale clotheslines Rambis

Jason Clinkscales is the editor-in-chief and media analyst for The Sports Fan Journal, senior editor for Yardbarker, and a masochistic New York Knicks fan. Follow Jason on Twitter at @asportsscribe.

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