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NBA 75 Series: #40 Willis Reed

Coming in at #40 on my NBA 75 Greatest Players of All Time is a leader of those 1960s and 1970s Knicks teams where he was labeled “The Captain” for his play on both ends and always being there for his teammates, and that is New York Knicks legend, Willis Reed. Reed was born on June 25, 1942, in Dubach, Louisiana where he grew up on a farm nearby Bernice.

Reed showed amazing athletic ability at a young age, and would go on to play high school basketball at West Side in Lillie, Louisiana, where he would start to become a dominant player. He would then play college basketball at Grambling State University, which is a historical black college (HBCU).

During his career as a Grambling State Tiger, Reed amassed 2,280 career points (18.7 PPG), and 1,851 rebounds (15.2 RPG). He would also average 26.6 points and 21.5 rebounds per game during his senior season. Reed would be named a consensus first team All-American twice, lead the Tigers to a NAIA title, three Southwestern Athletic Conference championships, and selected to the NAIA All-Tournament team three teams.

After a historic college career, Reed would somehow drop to the second round and be selected by the New York Knicks in the 1964 NBA Draft. He would immediately make a impact as a fierce, intimidating, and dominating force on both ends at the center position, despite being only 6’9 in a time where there were giants such as Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Nate Thurmond, and so forth roaming the lanes. He would go on to be named the 1965 Rookie of the Year with averages of 19.5 points and 14.7 rebounds per game, including a 46-point performance against the Jerry West, Elgin Baylor-led Lakers that showed why he was an All-Star in his first season.

Reed would go on to have a legendary career, as he would eventually help lead the Knicks to their two and only NBA titles (1970, 1973), along with capturing both of those Finals MVPs. There have been many thrilling baskets scored throughout NBA history, there have been few more renowned than the two Willis Reed made in the opening minutes of Game 7 of the 1970 Finals. Prior to Game 7, on May 8th, 1970, at 7:30 p.m, Reed, the captain and main force of a multi-talented New York Knicks team that also featured Walt Frazier, and Dave Debusschere, was apparently sidelined with a severe thigh injury, consisting of a torn muscle that threatened his team’s chances to win the championship. Fifteen minutes later he had become a legend, and the Knicks were on the way to their first title.

In the first four games of the Finals against the West, Wilt, and Baylor-led Lakers, Reed had scored 37, 29, 38 and 23 points, respectively, while averaging 15 rebounds. At 7:34 p.m., Reed was limping onto the court. The crowd went wild, while his teammates’ confidence returned with a vengeance. Reed somehow managed to out-jump Wilt Chamberlain on the opening tip, then scored the game’s first basket on a shot from the top of the key. He then scored a second basket from 20 feet out.

He did not need to score again, as he already lifted the spirits and confidence of his teammates by hitting those two shots. Frazier would go on to have a historic Finals performance, finishing with 36 points, 19 assists, and seven rebounds. But, it was Reed who gave his team the extra bolt of energy they needed, being the heart, soul, and backbone on those championship Knicks teams.

Besides his ROTY award, titles and Finals MVPs, Reed is an MVP (1970), seven-time All-Star, All-Star MVP (1970), five-time All-NBA, and an All-Defensive first team selection, where he would’ve made more had they had the award his whole career. He was a true leader and champion.

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