Willis Reed, one of the greatest players in Knicks history whose courageous return from injury for Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals cemented him as a symbol of toughness and perseverance, has died at age 80, the NBA announced. team on Tuesday.
Reed, a Hall of Fame center who played each of his 10 NBA seasons with the Knicks, was the MVP of both franchise championships.
“While we cry, we will always strive to uphold the standards left behind: the unmatched leadership, sacrifice and work ethic that epitomized him as a champion among champions,” the Knicks said in a statement. “His is a legacy that will live forever.”
Born in Lincoln Parish, Louisiana, Reed was the eighth overall pick by the Knicks out of Grambling State in 1964. The 6-foot-10 Reed averaged 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds in 650 career games between 1964 and 1974 and made seven NBA All-Star teams.
He was the NBA regular season and All-Star MVP during the 1969-70 season and led the Knicks to the Finals that postseason when he tore a thigh muscle in Game 5 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Reed did not play Game 6 and it seemed likely that he would miss Game 7, until he stepped onto the court at Madison Square Garden for warmups in what remains one of the most enduring images in sports.
“The Lakers … were shocked,” broadcaster Marv Albert, who called the game, said Tuesday on ESPN New York 98.7’s “The Michael Kay Show.” “Everyone stopped their warmups to look to the left of him and see Willis was on the court. You see (Wilt) Chamberlain, (Jerry) West, the whole group. They couldn’t believe it because they really counted on him out.”
Reed scored the Knicks’ first two baskets, his only 4 points in the game, to fuel a victory in which guard Walt Frazier posted 36 points and 19 assists. Reed became the first player to win regular season MVP, All-Star Game, and NBA Finals in the same season.
( Mike Lupica: Willis Reed, who was the beating heart of the champion Knicks, dies at 80 )
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The Knicks won their second title in 1973, also over the Lakers, with Reed and Frazier again leading a core that included Dave DeBusschere and Bill Bradley.
Nicknamed the Captain, Reed was the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1965 and selected to the league’s All-Defensive First Team in 1970. He later coached the Knicks during the 1977-1978 season and part of the following year.
Reed was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982 and his number 19 was retired by the Knicks. He was named to the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary Greatest Players in History lists.
Willis Reed was the ultimate team player and consummate leader”NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Tuesday.
“My earliest and best memories of NBA basketball are watching Willis, who embodied the winning spirit that defined the New York Knicks championship teams in the early 1970s. He played with remarkable passion and determination, and his inspiring return in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals remains one of the most iconic moments in all of sports.”
Carmelo Anthony, who played for the Knicks from 2011 to 2017, also shared a short tributewriting on Instagram: “Rest in power, Captain.”
Reed is survived by his second wife, Gale, whom he married in 1983.