Remembering Willis ‘The Captain’ Reed: 4 Of His Most Memorable NBA Moments

Basketball fans are mourning the loss of another legend, but there are tons of memories of his greatest days.

Basketball lost another great on Tuesday (March 21) with the passing of New York Knicks legend Willis Reed. In a Twitter post, the National Basketball Players Association confirmed that he died at age 80. However, his cause of death was not released.

In a statement, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver remembered Reed, a Hall of Famer, as the “ultimate team player and a consummate leader” as he reflected on the Knicks’ dominance in the league during the early 1970s and later as a coach and team executive.

The former center leaves behind one of the greatest legacies in the game with a 10-year career with the Knicks in which he was a seven-time All-Star and won two championships in which he was Finals MVP (1970 and 1973). Also a Grambling State standout, he scored more than 2,600 points during his college career. He also served as head coach of the Knicks and then the New Jersey Nets.

Reed, who played with other Knicks greats, including Walt Frazier; Earl “The Pearl” Monroe; future U.S. Senator Bill Bradley; and future coaching legend Phil Jackson played 650 games and averaged 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds per game. But seeing some of his greatest moments on the court is worth it, and here are four of them.

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  • 1. 1970 NBA Finals: Playing Through The Pain

    Probably the most memorable moment for Reed was during Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals when he limped back onto the court despite a muscle tear in his right thigh, which he suffered in Game 5. The Knicks' bid for the championship against the L.A. Lakers was in jeopardy without Reed's leadership on the court, and the series was tied 3-3. But rather than staying on the sideline, Reed went back in. He only scored four points and three rebounds but kept Wilt Chamberlain from hitting crucial points and assisted Frazier as they won the title.

  • 2. Bumping Up Against Kareem Abdul Jabbar

    Reed did not have the long career that Abdul Jabbar did, nor did he hold the all-time scoring record for decades. But arguably, some of Kareem’s best matchups were against Reed in the early 1970s, before he joined the Lakers and when he was known as Lew Alcindor of the Milwaukee Bucks. Between 1969 and 1971, Reed beat Alcindor in 16 of 18 games, and in particular in the 1970 Playoffs, he posted up on the then-rookie constantly dueling with him as he led the Knicks to a 4-1 series victory, allowing them to move on to the finals against the Lakers.

  • 3. Proving He Was No Softie

    Coming out of Grambling, Reed quickly learned that he had to earn his stripes in a league that some may argue was much tougher than today. In one particular 1966 matchup (again against Chamberlain and the Lakers), Reed attempted a rebound but discovered that he was being strongarmed by several Lakers players after being punched by Lakers forward Rudy LaRusso. Within seconds, he started throwing hands — against the whole team, and from the looks of it, they couldn’t handle him. The fight lasted much shorter than the infamous “Malice at the Palace” of 2004, but it was an unforgettable and rare moment.

  • 4. Battling It Out With Wes Unseld

    Some basketball fans may be too young to remember when the Washington Wizards were the Baltimore Bullets (they changed to Washington in 1974). At the time, they were led by the brilliant Wes Unseld, who duked it out in a 1971 game with Reed. The above rare footage shows Reed taking over the game from his rival with assists by Frazier. Reed averaged 19.5 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 26 games against Unseld.

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