NEW YORK – Willis Reed, who emerged in spectacular fashion from the locker room minutes before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals to propel the New York Knicks to their first championship and create one of the game’s most enduring examples in pain, died on Tuesday. He was 80 years old.
Reed’s death was announced by the National Basketball Retired Players Association, who confirmed it by his family. The cause has not been disclosed, but Reed was in poor health recently and was unable to travel to New York when the Knicks honored the 50th anniversary of their 1973 NBA championship team in their game against New York. Orleans on February 25.
Nicknamed “The Captain”, Reed was the undersized center and emotional leader of the Knicks’ two NBA championship teams, with a soft shooting touch from the outside and a tenacity to fight with the big superstar men of the game. era inside.
His accomplishments — seven All-Star selections, including two NBA Finals MVP awards — alone would have warranted Hall of Fame induction. During the 1969-70 season, he became the first player to win regular season, All-Star Game, and NBA Finals MVP awards.
But his place in history was secured simply by stepping on the floor on the last night of this season.
Reed injured a thigh muscle in Game 5 of the series between the Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers, falling to the field in pain. He missed Game 6 as his counterpart Wilt Chamberlain had 45 points and 27 rebounds in a Lakers game that forced a game breaker at Madison Square Garden.
Reed’s status was unknown even to his Knicks teammates as he continued to seek medical treatment until shortly before Game 7. Both teams were warming up when Reed exited the tunnel, with fans standing and roaring when they saw him coming out of the tunnel leading to the locker room. .
“And here comes Willis and the crowd goes wild,” said radio announcer Marv Albert.
The Lakers stopped to watch Reed, who then made two quick shots in the opening minutes of the game, returning to the field after both with a noticeable limp. He wouldn’t score again but the Knicks didn’t need him, with their captain’s return and Walt Frazier’s 36 points and 19 assists energizing them for a 113-99 and their first NBA title.