Willis Reed, Hall of Fame Center for Champion Knicks, Dies at 80
He was beloved by New York fans for his willingness to play hurt, as memorably exemplified in the decisive Game 7 of the 1970 N.B.A. finals at Madison Square Garden.
from Harvey Araton, with the New York Times…CLICK HERE to read full article/post, from The Times….
Willis Reed, the brawny and inspirational hub of two Knicks championship teams that captivated New York in the early 1970s with a canny, team-oriented style of play, died Tuesday morning. He was 80.
His death was confirmed by his former teammate Bill Bradley, the former United States senator. He said Reed had congestive heart issues. It was not clear where Reed died, but he had been under treatment at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, Bradley said.
In an era when Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain were the more celebrated big men, Reed was a highly skilled 6-foot-9 center with a resolute physicality that was much admired over a 10-year career, though it was marred by injury and ended at 31.
It was Reed’s willingness to play hurt that brought him his greatest measure of respect and fame, and his grittiness was never more exemplified and celebrated than on May 8, 1970, in the decisive game of the National Basketball Association finals.
Days earlier, he had torn a right tensor muscle, which originates in the hip and extends to the thigh, while driving to the basket on Chamberlain during the first quarter of Game 5 at Madison Square Garden — a game the Knicks rallied to win without him. Saving whatever he had left for a possible Game 7, he sat out Game 6 in Los Angeles, in which Chamberlain scored 45 points.
When the Knicks went out to warm up before the start of Game 7, Reed stayed behind in the trainer’s room for treatment. As everyone in the packed Garden anxiously awaited word on whether he would play, he made his way stiff-legged through the players’ tunnel and emerged to a crescendo of cheers to join his teammates, who were already warming up.
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“You’re five stories above the ground and I swear you could feel the vibrations,” Reed said in 2009. “I thought, this is what an earthquake must feel like.”
Limping noticeably, he hit his first two southpaw jump shots for his only points of the game. Walt Frazier carried the Knicks from there, with 36 points and 19 assists, and the Knicks, with a 113-99 victory, clinched the franchise’s first title.
Heroism Under Duress
His threshold for tolerating pain — however much dulled that night by pregame injections of carbocaine, a powerful derivative of novocaine — has for decades been invoked as a standard measure, a “Willis Reed moment,” for athletic heroism under physical duress.
“It was the best example of inspiration by an individual in a sporting event I’ve ever seen,” Bradley once said.
Reed won the N.B.A.’s Most Valuable Player Award for the 1969-70 season and was named the M.V.P. of the championship series. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1965, was voted an All-Star seven times and won another N.B.A. title and finals M.V.P. with the Knicks in 1973. For his career, he averaged 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds per game.
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