Willis Reed, the legendary New York Knicks captain, has passed away at 80.
A cause of death has not been revealed, but longtime NBA reporter Peter Vescey reported on Twitter that the Louisiana native had been dealing with congestive heart problems ‘over the past year or so.’ He had been undergoing rehab in order to walk, Vescey wrote.
A two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP, the 6-foot-10 Reed was the centerpiece of Knicks coach Red Holzman’s memorable teams of the late 1960s and 1970s.
He is perhaps best remembered for his appearance in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, when he overcame a severe leg injury in the Knicks’ 113-99 win over Wilt Chamberlain’s Los Angeles Lakers.
The sight of the hobbled center emerging from what later became known as the ‘Willis Reed Tunnel,’ and the overwhelming response from the Madison Square Garden faithful, remains an indelible part of NBA history. Reed would only score four points – the Knicks’ first two baskets of the game – but the emotional edge he gave his teammates is often credited for the team’s first NBA title.
Willis Reed, the legendary New York Knicks captain, has passed away at 80. A cause of death has not been revealed, but longtime NBA reporter Peter Vescey reported on Twitter that the Louisiana native had been dealing with congestive heart problems ‘over the past year or so.’ He had been undergoing rehab in order to walk, Vescey wrote
The only man to win a Finals MVP with the Knicks, Reed (No. 19) is pictured in this 1970 shot with the other members of New York’s first title-winning team, including Phil Jackson (No. 18), Walt Frazier (No. 10), Cazzie Russell (No. 33), Dave DeBusschere (No. 22), future US Senator Bill Bradley (No. 24), Mike Riordan (No. 6), Dick Barnett (No. 9) and coach Red Holzman (far left)
Although his playing days in New York lasted only 10 years, Reed’s Hall of Fame career was deeply impactful in a city where basketball is so revered.
He would later coach the Knicks and serve as general manager, before moving on to similar roles with the New Jersey Nets, but it’s his gritty, unselfish play that made him a near-religious figure among New York fans.
While undeniably impressive, Reed’s stats are modest compared to some of his contemporaries, such as Chamberlain or Milwaukee rival Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Reed averaged 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds per game, but block statistics weren’t recorded in his day, and so it can be difficult to gauge his full defensive impact.
Regardless, Reed was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Team in 1970 – one of many accolades he garnered at Madison Square Garden between 1964 and 1974.
The NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 1970, Reed was a seven-time All-Star, who earned one All-NBA First Team nod and four Second Team honors, in addition to his Rookie of the Year ward in 1965. His No. 19 was retired by the Knicks, Reed was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982, and later he was named to the NBA’s list of the 50 greatest players in league history.
(Left) Willis Reed #19 of the New York Knicks battles for rebound position against Dave Cowens #18 of the Boston Celtics during an NBA game in 1970 at the Boston Garden in Boston. (Right) Reed hits a hook shot against the Milwaukee Bucks during a game in the 1970s
A behind the scenes view of Nate Thurmond, Willis Reed, Wes Unseld and Bill Russell as the NBA celebrates the naming of the 50 greatest players during NBA All-Star weekend on February 7, 1997 in Cleveland
(Left) Willis Reed with former rival Bill Walton in 2002. (Right) Reed and Shaquille O’Neal
Reed’s coaching career is less celebrated.
Just as Bill Russell had replaced his coach, Red Auerbach, in Boston, Reed would replace Holzman in New York, taking over in 1977-78 at age 35 and guiding the Knicks to respectable 43-39 record and a second-round loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Holzman would resume control of the team the following season after a 6-8 start.
He would go 52-65 at Creighton between 1981 and 1985 before returning to the NBA to coach the Nets in 1987-88 and 1988-89, finishing with a 33-77 record in New Jersey.
As an executive, he hired Chick Daly to coach the News in 1992, and later served as vice president of the New Orleans Hornets before his retirement in 2007.
Willis Reed of the New Jersey Nets introduce there new draftee Ed O’Bannon at a press conference on June 29, 1995 in East Rutherford
(Left) Reed and Wilt Chamberlain in 1972. (Right) Reed coaches the Knicks in 1977
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