The National Basketball Retired Players Association announced Tuesday that Willis Reed, a seven-time NBA All-Star, two-time champion, and member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, passed away at the age of 80. Reed, a 1964 second-round draft pick out of Grambling State, played for the New York Knicks for the entirety of his ten-year NBA career. He won Finals MVP during both of New York’s championship seasons in the 1970s and was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for the 1969–70 season (1970 and 1973).
With his effort in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, Reed is best known. Reed had previously missed Game 6 of the series due to a torn muscle in the same series. He unexpectedly managed to start the game and score New York’s opening two points despite the fact that it was widely anticipated he would again miss Game 7. Although he only managed to score those few points, he was able to play the entire 27 minutes and, maybe more significantly, he helped the Knicks defeat the Lakers to win the title by igniting the Madison Square Garden crowd.
The following statement was made public by the Knicks following the confirmation of Reed’s death:
“The loss of our cherished captain, Willis Reed, is announced with great sadness by the Knicks organization. We will continue to fight to uphold the values he left behind, including the unmatched leadership, selflessness, and work ethic that typified him as a champion among champions, even as we grieve. His influence will last forever. Please respect the family’s privacy during this trying time, we ask everyone.”
In the 1940s, Reed grew up on a farm in Louisiana. Early on, he demonstrated his athletic potential, and he later became a standout at Grambling State. He is likely the finest player to ever attend a historically Black college or university, albeit he is up against Earl Monroe and Charles Oakley, two more legendary Knicks players.
Willis Reed’s participation in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals was uncertain due to a right thigh injury. He then emerged from the tunnel to assist the Knicks in winning their first NBA title! @nyknicks: #TeamDays pic.twitter.com/G0dIplhtli
— posted on August 1 by NBA TV (@NBATV).
After the 1973–74 season, injuries terminated Reed’s career, but he continued to work in and around professional basketball. In the late 1970s, he led the Knicks in coaching for 96 games before spending four years at Creighton University. He eventually worked with the Hawks, the Kings, and St. John’s as an assistant. When he took over the New Jersey Nets in 1988, he started coaching again in the New York region, but he only lasted 110 games with a 33-77 record. He departed that role to take a vice president of basketball operations and general manager position with the organization, which he maintained until 1996. Before quitting basketball in 2007, his final job was with the New Orleans Hornets.
Willis Reed was the ideal team player and the quintessential leader, according to a statement from NBA commissioner Adam Silver. “Watching Willis, who personified the competitive attitude that characterized the New York Knicks’ championship teams in the early 1970s, is one of my first and favorite memories of NBA basketball. He demonstrated extraordinary intensity and tenacity while playing, and his stirring comeback in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals is still regarded as one of sports’ most memorable moments. Willis was a distinguished player who took great delight in his consistency. He was the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams member, two-time league MVP, and MVP of the NBA Finals. After retiring from playing, Willis served as a coach, team executive, and proud HBCU graduate, mentoring the next generation. Our sincere condolences go out to Willis’ wife Gail, his family, as well as his countless friends and admirers.
The Madison Square Garden rafters are lined with Reed’s No. 19 jersey. He was chosen for the 50th and 75th anniversary teams of the NBA. Since the end of the previous season, the winner of the NBA’s Southwest Division has been given the Willis Reed trophy. He was elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980.
In conclusion, Reed is arguably the finest player to ever don a Knicks uniform and had one of the greatest careers in the annals of professional basketball. Sadly, he will not be able to witness the team’s first championship since his retirement because the streak will now continue without him.