Willis Reed, a seven-time NBA All-Star, two-time champion and Basketball Hall of Famer, died Tuesday at the age of 80, the National Basketball Retired Players Association confirmed Tuesday. Reed, a second-round pick out of Grambling State in 1964, spent his entire 10-year NBA career playing for the New York Knicks. He was the NBA's Most Valuable Player for the 1969-70 season, and won Finals MVP during both of New York's championships in the 1970s (1970 and 1973).
Reed is best remembered for his performance in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. Reed had previously suffered a torn muscle in the series and missed Game 6 as a result. He was widely expected to miss Game 7 as well, but he surprisingly managed to start the game and score New York's first two baskets. Those were the only points he would score in the game, but he managed to stay on the floor for 27 total minutes, and perhaps more importantly, energized the Madison Square Garden crowd enough to help the Knicks secure the championship over the Lakers.
The Knicks released the following statement after news of Reed's death was confirmed:
"The Knicks organization is deeply saddened to announce the passing of our beloved captain, Willis Reed. 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. His is a legacy that will live forever. We ask everyone to please respect the family's privacy during this difficult time."
Reed grew up on a farm in Louisiana in the 1940s. He showed his athletic promise early and eventually went on to star at Grambling State. He is arguably the greatest player ever to come out of a historically Black college or university, though he faces competition from fellow Knicks legends Earl Monroe and Charles Oakley.
Before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, it was unknown if Willis Reed would play due to a right thigh injury. He then came out of the tunnel to help lead the Knicks to their 1st ever NBA Championship! #TeamDays | @nyknicks pic.twitter.com/G0dIplhtli— NBA TV (@NBATV) August 1, 2018
Injuries ended Reed's career after the 1973-74 season, and he went on to hold a number of positions in and around professional basketball. He coached the Knicks for 96 games in the late 70's and then coached at Creighton University for four years. Eventually, he worked as an assistant at St. John's as well as for the Hawks and Kings. He returned to coaching in the New York area when he took over the New Jersey Nets in 1988, but lasted just 110 games with a record of 33-77. He left that position to become the team's general manager and vice president of basketball operations, a job he held until 1996. His final position in basketball came with the New Orleans Hornets before he retired in 2007.
"Willis Reed was the ultimate team player and consummate leader," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "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. As a league MVP, two-time NBA Finals MVP and member of the NBA's 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams, Willis was a decorated player who took great pride in his consistency. Following his playing career, Willis mentored the next generation as a coach, team executive and proud HBCU alumnus. We send our deepest condolences to Willis' wife, Gale, his family and his many friends and fans."
Reed's No. 19 jersey hangs in the Madison Square Garden rafters. He was elected to both the NBA's 50th and 75th anniversary teams. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980, and as of last season, the winner of the NBA's Southwest Division is awarded the Willis Reed trophy.
In short, Reed had one of the greatest careers in the history of professional basketball and is perhaps the greatest player ever to wear a Knicks uniform. The team has not won a championship since his retirement, and now, sadly, he will not be able to see that streak broken.