Willis Reed, the undisputed leader of the New York Knicks’ only two NBA championship teams and creator of one of the most memorable moments in league history, has died. He was 80 years old.
Reed, as many basketball aficionados and historians will recall, was a hardwood brute as a 6-foot-10 product of Lincoln Parish, Louisiana, about 80 miles east of Shreveport, who went on to craft a Hall of Fame career that still resonates to this day.
“The Knicks organization is deeply saddened to announce the passing of our beloved Captain, Willis Reed,” the Knicks said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, according to ESPN. “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.
Our Captain. pic.twitter.com/AbtA7FhLvW
— NY_KnicksPR (@NY_KnicksPR) March 21, 2023
“His is a legacy that will live forever. We ask everyone to please respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time,” the statement reads on the Knicks’ Twitter page.
Reed was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 1965 and its Most Valuable Player in 1970, as well as a seven-time All-Star and a five-time All-NBA selection. He was also named to the NBA’s 50th and 75th anniversary teams.
But the moment that New York sports fans will never forget is the time Reed appeared for Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the all-powerful Wilt Chaimberlain, Jerry West and the Los Angeles Lakers. The team and the city felt that he was needed for the Knicks to win their first title. Reed had gotten injured and did not play in Game 6. But he limped through the tunnel late to start the game to uproarious cheers from the Knicks fans. He hit the first two jumpers to open the contest — the only points he scored that day — which gave such an electric jolt to the Knicks that they won the NBA championship in what is known as “The Willis Reed Game.”
Three years later, after losing to the same Lakers in the Finals in 1972, Reed led the Knicks to a victory over the Lakers to capture their second championship in four years.
“Willis Reed was the ultimate team player and consummate leader. 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,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “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.”
Accolades have poured in from around the NBA and beyond for the gentle giant who roared on the court.
I loved this man… He was my assistant coach when I was a player with the Hawks. He was simply a great person,
A man !!! A leader!!! A Winner!!!
— doc rivers (@DocRivers) March 21, 2023
My illustrations of The Captain my first @nba basketball hero RIP #WillisReed @nyknicks @KnicksFanTv @SiriusXMNBA @Jumpshot8 @TermineRadio @MikePearsonLA pic.twitter.com/L7ppMRpwIm
— Chuck D (@MrChuckD) March 21, 2023
#RIP Willis Reed. Class act and the author of one of the greatest moments in sport.
Nearly 53 years later it still amazes me this was not seen live, anywhere but inside MSG. The NBA Finals were on tape delay even in NYC. pic.twitter.com/BCJ9sYMWso
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) March 21, 2023
Below is a tribute to Reed and his remarkable career.