By Anthony McClean, Editor-In-Chief Emeritus
As the year slowly begins to wind down, BASN will devote the final 12 days of 2020 to look back at the pioneers, contributors, and innovators we lost during the last 12 months. The specter of Covid-19 has been prevalent all year and the sports world was no different.
Today, we focus on the month of June.
Wes Unseld, NBA Hall of Famer, executive (6/2)
Unseld, the workmanlike Hall of Fame center who led Washington to its only NBA championship and was chosen one of the 50 greatest players in league history, died after a series of health issues, most recently pneumonia. He was 74. A five-time All-Star and, along with Wilt Chamberlain, one of only two players to win NBA Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in the same season, Unseld instantly made the team then known as the Baltimore Bullets into a winning franchise after it selected him No. 2 overall in the 1968 draft. A decade later, he was the MVP of the NBA Finals as the Washington Bullets beat the Seattle SuperSonics in a seven-game series best known for coach Dick Motta’s proclamation: “The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings.” Listed at 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, Unseld overcame taller players and bad knees with a strong work ethic and lots of grunt work in the paint. He was a tenacious rebounder and strong passer. Unseld was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988, his first year of eligibility.
Oscar Brown, MLB star (6/3)
Brown, who led the USC Baseball team to a College World Series appearance in 1966 and earned All-America second team honors, died at his home in Carson at the age of 74. Brown was the brother of another USC great, Willie Brown, who played football and baseball for the Trojans, and a member of an iconic Southern California sports family, with his brother Ollie also playing 13 years in the Major Leagues. Oscar died of complications from old age on June 3. After leading the 1966 USC baseball team on a deep run at the College World Series, Brown was selected in the first round of the MLB Draft by the Atlanta Braves. He would make his Major League debut in 1969, playing alongside the likes of Hank Aaron and Dusty Baker with the Braves until a knee injury cut his career short in 1973. Brown played in a total of 160 games during his five-year MLB career. In his lone season at USC, Brown led the Trojans with a .340 batting average, stole a team high 12 bases, and posted nine homers and 36 RBI. He was named to the All-Conference first team and All-America second team. The 1966 Trojans went 42-9 that year, falling to eventual champions Ohio State in the semifinals of the College World Series. Prior to his time at USC, Brown was a standout athlete at Long Beach Poly High School like his two older brothers.
Reche Caldwell, NFL star (6/6)
A former NFL wide receiver, Caldwell died at age 41 during an “ambush” in Tampa, Florida. Caldwell was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 2002 after playing at the University of Florida. He signed with the New England Patriots in 2006, making it to the AFC championship game that season with former star quarterback Tom Brady. Caldwell dropped two passes in the championship game, and the Patriots lost to the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots released him before the 2007 season.
Ken Riley, NFL star (6/7)
For parts of three decades, Riley patrolled the defensive backfield for the Cincinnati Bengals. Across 15 seasons, Riley came away with 65 interceptions and the cornerback became one of the franchise’s all-time best players. A sixth-round draft pick by the Bengals in 1969, Riley became a starter in Cincy as a rookie and remained one through his final season — an All-Pro campaign in 1983. A quarterback at FAMU, Riley was converted to cornerback by Paul Brown upon joining the Bengals and finished his career fourth in NFL history with the aforementioned 65 career picks. Riley is still tied for fifth in NFL chronicle. A member of the Bengals Hall of Fame, Black College Football Hall of Fame and FAMU Athletics Hall of Fame, Riley is the only player ranking among the NFL top-five career interception leaders not to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Following his career, he was an assistant for the Packers for two seasons and eventually returned to FAMU, where he was the head coach from 1986-1993. At his alma mater, he posted a 48-39-2 record and won a pair of MEAC crowns and two conference coach of the year honors. He was named AD in 1993 and held the position until 2004.
Claudell Washington, MLB star (6/11)
Washington, a two-time All-Star outfielder who played 17 seasons in the majors after being called up as a teenager by the Oakland Athletics, has died. He was 65. Washington played with seven teams in his career, finishing with 1,884 hits, 164 home runs and 312 stolen bases. He made the All-Star Game in 1975 with the A’s and in 1984 with the Atlanta Braves during his long career. Washington has the dubious distinction of striking out more times than any player against Nolan Ryan, with 39 in 90 career at-bats. The outfielder also hit the 10,000th home run in New York Yankee history, connecting off Minnesota’s Jeff Reardon in 1988. Washington was originally signed by A’s scout Jim Guinn as an undrafted free agent in 1972 and made it to the majors two years later as a 19-year-old. Guinn also signed Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson among others. Washington helped Oakland win its third consecutive World Series title that season in five games over the Los Angeles Dodgers, going 4-for-7 in the Series.
Anthony McClean can be reached via email at email@example.com.