Willis Reed Dies: Hall Of Famer & Two-Time NBA Champ Who Hobbled Back To Lead Knicks Over Lakers In Classic 1970 Finals Was 80

Willis Reed, the Hall of Fame NBA center who won two championships with the New York Knicks including his legendary hobbling return to the court in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals, died today. He was 80.

His former teammate-turned-U.S. senator Bill Bradley told The New York Times that had Reed died but gave no details other than he’d been undergoing treatment at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston.

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Willis Reed drives on Wilt Chamberlain during the 1970 NBA Finals.
Willis Reed drives on Wilt Chamberlain during the 1970 NBA Finals.

Reed’s career was cut short by injury after 10 seasons, but he endured himself to fans and rivals for his determination to play hurt. That grit was exemplified during the 1970 NBA Finals against Wilt Chamberlain and the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite tearing a muscle in his right hip area in Game 5 and sitting out the next game, he returned for the decisive Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. Noticeably hobbled, the 6-foot-9 Reed and teammate Walt Frazier led the Knicks to a win and was named MVP of the championship series — and was named league MVP for the 1969-70 season.

Reed would help lead the team to another title in 1973, again beating the Lakers, who were the defending NBA champs — this time in five games. The titles came in an era dominated by big men Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who’d split the championships between the Knicks’ titles.

Born on June 25, 1942, in Lincoln Parrish, LA, Reed played his college ball at Grambling State and was the Knicks’ second-round draft choice in 1964. He went on to be the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 1964-65 and would make seven All-Star teams during his career. He also was named to the league’s 50th and 75th anniversary teams. The Knicks retired his No. 19 jersey in 1976, and he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982. Starting with the 2021-22 season, the champion of the league’s Southwest Division receives the Willis Reed Trophy.

After Reed retired from playing in 1974, he coached the Knicks for the 1977-78 season and would coach in the NBA and college ranks until 1989, the last season with the New York Nets. That club hired him as general manager and VP Basketball Operations later that year, and he was named the team’s SVP Basketball Operations in 1996. The Nets made the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 but lost to the powerhouse Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, respectively.

Reed finished his NBA executive career as VP Basketball Operations for the New Orleans Hornets from 2004-07.

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