1942-2023Class of 1982
In a rare quiet moment before tip-off, New York Knicks captain Willis Reed is still in the locker room contemplating the next few hours of his life. It’s Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, and Reed is struggling to walk. The torn thigh muscle that kept him out of Game 6 has not responded to treatment. The broad-shouldered, sure-handed lefty winces as injections of cortisone begin to numb the area above his right knee. Moments later, Reed will author one of the greatest moments in basketball history when he walks through the tunnel of Madison Square Garden to join his teammates in pregame warmups. Standing on one leg, Reed was not going down without a fight.
A torrent of cheers rained down from the Garden faithful as Reed ambled out on to the court. The Los Angeles Lakers paused to see what all the commotion was about, and in that brief, fleeting moment, the fate of the New York Knicks was sealed. Reed inspired his teammates that night, his presence lifting the Knicks to the 1970 NBA championship. His determination and courage was rewarded when he was named Most Valuable Player of the series. Reed is still the only player in NBA history to be named MVP of the All-Star Game, regular season, and Finals in the same season.
Willis Reed, 80, passed away on March 21, 2023. He leaves behind a constant reminder that in a team sport like basketball, the whole will always be greater than the sum of its parts.
“While Willis Reed’s life will undoubtedly be remembered for his basketball career, his legacy will be defined by the selfless nature of his character, and the difference he made in the lives and careers of those he played with and those whom he coached. We extend our deepest sympathy to the entire Reed family. ” said John Doleva, President & CEO of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Born on June 25, 1942 in Bernice, Louisiana, Willis Reed attended HBCU Grambling State University from 1960 to 1964, playing basketball during an era in which the game was still struggling with issues of race. Reed spent his formative years in Louisiana where he witnessed firsthand the deep-seated racism plaguing America in the decades leading up to the civil rights movement. Throughout his career, his actions and his words served as both reminder of, and remedy to, the discrimination Black Americans continue to face.
At Grambling, Reed led the Tigers to the 1961 NAIA national championship. He earned All-America honors twice and averaged better than 18 points and 15 rebounds per game.
In an era of dominant centers, the undersized Reed stood toe-to-toe with the best in the game. He played inside and outside, his quickness helping him spin to the rim and his soft touch allowing him to step out on the perimeter. The seven-time All-Star earned Rookie of the Year honors in 1965, was named to five All-NBA teams in ten seasons, and captained the legendary Knicks teams that won NBA titles in 1970 and 1973. Legendary, in part, because in a city that worships celebrity, a group of superstars coalesced around one singular goal, and sacrificed any notion of personal glory. Reed embodied the team-oriented style of play that defined the New York Knicks during his playing career.
Willis Reed was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame with the Class of 1982.