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Remembering local legend: Walt Wesley, Dunbar graduate and NBA Pro Basketball Player, dies at 79

Those who knew Walt Wesley would call him, a soft spoken, gentle giant.

Wesley stood at 6 feet 11 inches tall and notably he used his height to dominate the basketball court. Wesley died recently, but while he lived, his life was a testament of service and giving back.

His good friend, fraternity brother and fellow church member Lovie Wells Jr. knew him well.

“Talking with my mom and them, they tell me that when Walt played in school, when he started, he was like any other kid. He was oversized, uncoordinated and gangly. But by the time he got to his junior year, he was different. He was the big man on campus," says Wells.

Wesley was born and raised in Fort Myers. His mother and father were educators. They always admonished him to get his education. Basketball became the vehicle that took him to heights many aspiring student-athletes never achieve.

“He was a great man. He had a wide reach. Yeah he was 6 foot 11”… but wherever we went, most people would say, how tall are you? And the next thing was, can I get an autograph? I mean they knew, he had that persona, they knew he was somebody. He just exuded that," says Wells.

Wesley graduated Dunbar High School in 1962, when segregation and segregated schools were still at its height. The University of Kansas Jayhawks came knocking and recruited Wesley, giving him a full scholarship to play basketball. He quickly grew to national fame and recognition.

He was a two time All American and selected sixth overall by the Cincinnati Royals in the 1966 NBA draft. He had a successful 10-year career in the NBA. Including stints with the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns, Capital Bullets (now the Washington Wizards), Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers.

Following his playing career, Wesley coached at several Division I programs, including Kansas, Western Michigan and Army. With all his years of experience, he came back home to help make a difference.

Wells says, “he came back, and he spent a considerable time in this community sharing with kids his experiences, sharing with others things that he felt would improve this community. Because he truly loved Dunbar, he loved Fort Myers.”

He was the General manager of the STARS complex in Fort Myers, just down the street from the current Dunbar High school site on Edison Ave.

“I think Walt would want to be recognized as a guy that did the best he could with what he had. And he was a credit to his community, to his family, to his church family while he was able to do it," says Wells.

Walt Wesley, a hometown hero, who won’t be soon forgotten in Southwest Florida. His legacy both on and off the court represents what it means to succeed and help others do the same.