Willis Reed, two-time Knicks champion and NBA Hall of Famer, dead at 80
Willis Reed, one of the greatest players in Knicks history whose gutsy return from injury for Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals solidified him as a symbol of toughness and perseverance, has died at age 80, the team announced Tuesday.
Reed, a Hall of Fame center who played each of his 10 NBA seasons with the Knicks, was the MVP of both of the franchise’s championships.
“As we mourn, we will always strive to uphold the standards he left behind — the unmatched leadership, sacrifice and work ethic that personified him as a champion among champions,” the Knicks said in a statement. “His is a legacy that will live forever.”
Born in Lincoln Parish, La., 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 from 1964-74 and made seven NBA All-Star teams.
He was the MVP of the NBA’s regular season and All-Star Game during the 1969-70 campaign and led the Knicks to the Finals that postseason when he tore a thigh muscle in Game 5 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Reed sat out Game 6 and seemed likely to miss Game 7 — until he emerged on the Madison Square Garden court for warmups in what remains one of the sport’s lasting images.
“The Lakers … were in shock,” broadcaster Marv Albert, who called the game, said Tuesday on ESPN New York 98.7′s “The Michael Kay Show.” “They all stopped their warmups to look over to their left to see that Willis was on the court. You see [Wilt] Chamberlain, [Jerry] West, the whole group. They couldn’t believe it because they really were counting on him being out.”
Reed scored the Knicks’ first two baskets — accounting for his only 4 points in the game — to fuel a victory in which guard Walt Frazier recorded 36 points and 19 assists. Reed became the first player ever to win MVP of the regular season, 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 for 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 the Knicks retired his No. 19. He was included on the NBA’s 50th and 75th anniversary lists of the greatest players ever.
“Willis Reed was the ultimate team player and consummate leader,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Tuesday.
“My earliest and fondest memories of NBA basketball are of watching Willis, who embodied the winning spirit that defined the New York Knicks’ championship teams in the early 1970s. He played the game with remarkable passion and determination, and his inspiring comeback 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 2011-17, also shared a short tribute, writing on Instagram, “Rest in Power, Captain.”
Reed is survived by his second wife, Gale, whom he married in 1983.