New York Knicks hero Willis Reed has died, the National Basketball Retired Players Association said Tuesday. He was 80 years old.
Reed led the Knicks to two championship titles in the 1970s, which included one of the most iconic moments in basketball history.
Although suffering from a torn thigh muscle, Reed willed his way onto the court of the winner-take-all Game 7 of the NBA Finals on May 8, 1970. After missing Game 6 against the Los Angeles Lakers, Reed played the first half of the series decider.
The Madison Square Garden crowd roared when Reed entered from the players’ tunnel and proceeded to inspire his team and the fans by hitting his first two shots. The heroic performance is often included as one of the defining moments in sports history.
The Knicks went on to win the game, led by Walt Frazier. Another Reed-led Knicks team won the 1973 title.
The Knicks captain was the first NBA player to be named league MVP, Finals MVP and All-Star Game MVP in the same season.
Reed retired from the NBA in 1974.
“Willis Reed was the ultimate team player and consummate leader,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Tuesday. “My earliest and fondest memories of NBA basketball are of watching Willis, who embodied the winning spirit that defined the New York Knicks’ championship teams in the early 1970s.
“He played the game with remarkable passion and determination, and his inspiring comeback in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals remains one of the most iconic moments in all of sports. As a league MVP, two-time NBA Finals MVP and member of the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams, Willis was a decorated player who took great pride in his consistency. Following his playing career, Willis mentored the next generation as a coach, team executive and proud HBCU alumnus.
“We send our deepest condolences to Willis’ wife, Gail, his family and his many friends and fans,” Silver said.
Reed, born on June 25, 1942, once described Hico, Louisiana, where he was born, to Pro Basketball Illustrated as a place so small that “They don’t even have a population.”
The left-hander played at Grambling State University (then called Grambling College) where he led the Tigers to the 1961 NAIA title and three Southwestern Athletic Conference championships.
Reed was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982.