J.B. Bickerstaff on Willis Reed: He ‘was more concerned about the greater good than he was with himself’
Ahead of tip-off between the Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff and Nets coach Jacque Vaughn celebrated the late, great, Willis Reed, who tragically passed away at age 80 earlier in the day.
Neither head coach had a personal relationship with Reed — a two-time NBA champion dubbed one of the “50 Greatest Players in NBA History” after spending his entire playing career with the Knicks before assuming both head coach and general manager positions with the then-New Jersey Nets.
“I didn’t have a relationship, but there’s a respect that I had for him,” said Bickerstaff, whose father Bernie became an assistant coach for the Capital Bullets the during Reed’s final season before retirement. “There was a relationship obviously with my father being one of his peers and there’s an admiration for all the things that he did in this league, not just as a player but as an ambassador for the league.”
Bickerstaff said Reed’s impact on the NBA transcended his abilities on the basketball court. The Hall of Fame big man averaged 18.7 points, 12.9 rebounds and played all but one season before the NBA began tracking block and steal statistics in the 1973-74 season. Reed was the 1964-65 Rookie of the Year, won All-Star Game MVP, Finals MVP and league MVP all in the same season (1970) and was named to the 2021-22 NBA 75th Anniversary Team last year.
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He helped deliver the Knicks their only two championships in franchise history in 1970 and 1973 — but Bickerstaff said what stood out most about Reed was his selflessness.
“You just watch those guys that came before you, and you watch how they treat people, how they respect the game, and he just always seemed like a really genuine and kind person that was more concerned about the greater good than he was with himself, and I think as a leader he set the tone that way,” the Cavs’ coach said. “Whatever was happening, it wasn’t just gonna be about him. It was gonna be about the entire NBA and all the players, all his teammates, and that’s something that I really admired.”
Vaughn also said he had no personal relationship with Reed, but he knew the local history: Reed was promoted to general manager and Vice President of basketball operations for the New Jersey Nets from 1989-1996. When he became senior Vice President, the Nets made back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003.
“And so condolences to the family. The NBA, we’ve lost a giant in the game,” Vaughn said. “Legendary moment that he produced over his career, a winner; and it’s great to hear some of the things that have been said about him. You know, when you leave this earth, you want people to remember you for who you were, how are you able to contribute to society; and he was able to contribute in a lot of good ways.”
Reed still holds a number of NBA records: Most consecutive field goals made in a single NBA Finals game (11 – Game 1, 1970 NBA Finals); oldest player to record a triple-double (age 38 years and seven days old); most free throws made in a single NBA Finals game without a miss (12); most rebounds in an NBA Finals series (140); and most minutes played in a single NBA Finals game (46 minutes, 38 seconds).