Willis Reed,

HBCU, NBA legend Willis Reed passes

Willis Reed starred in the HBCU ranks at Grambling and in the NBA with the New York Knicks. He passed Tuesday at 80.

Grambling State and NBA New York Knicks legend Willis Reed passed on Tuesday. He was 80 years old.

Reed made his name and fortune as a rugged 6-10 left-handed center with patented jump and hook shots. He is remembered for some of the most iconic moments in NBA and Knicks history. None however more than his emergence from the locker room after a thigh injury was expected to sideline him for the seventh and deciding game of the 1970 NBA finals vs. the Los Angeles Lakers.

NY Knicks captain Willis Reed (l.) limps onto the court and into NBA history and lore in the 1970 league finals

He was facing the Lakers with the likes of all-time NBA greats Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. Reed, the Knicks’ captain. limped out of the locker room, hobbled onto the court and and scored the first four points of the game. He finished with just six points and three rebounds. But his inspiring entrance and play led the Knicks to their first-ever NBA championship in a 113-99 wire-to-wire win.

Reed was that season’s NBA Most Valuable Player, NBA All-Star Game MVP and the MVP of the NBA Finals. He was the first player in NBA history to sweep the three awards. Those awards helped secure his legendary status.

He was also on the team but a less integral part of the Knicks second NBA crown in the 1972-73 season.

Willis Reed: An NBA force from the beginning

The Knicks selected Reed with the first pick in the second round, eighth overall, of the 1964 NBA Draft out of Grambling. Reed quickly made a name as a fierce, dominating and physical force on both ends of the floor. In March 1965, he scored 46 points against the Los Angeles Lakers, the second-highest single-game total ever by the Knicks’ rookie. For the 1964–65 season, he ranked seventh in the NBA in scoring (19.5 points per game) and fifth in rebounding at 14.7 per game. He also began his string of seven straight All-Star appearances.

In his 10-year NBA career, all with the Knicks, Reed averaged 18.7 points and 14.7 rebounds. After averaging 19.5 points per game as a rookie and 15.5 points in his sophomore season, Reed averaged over 20 points per game over his next five seasons (1966-67 thru 1970-71). He also averaged over 13 rebounds per game in six of his first seven seasons in the league. As it stands, Reed, who spent his entire playing career with the Knicks (1964-74) still ranks in the franchise’s respective top ten rankings in rebounds (8,414), points (12,183), and games played (650). 

Willis Reed among greatest of all time

In 1982, Reed was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.  He was voted one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.[In October 2021, Reed was again honored as one of the league’s greatest players of all-time by being named to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team.

After retiring as a player, Reed served as assistant and head coach with several teams for nearly a decade. He was then promoted to general manager and vice president of basketball operations (1989–1996) for the New Jersey Nets. As senior vice president of basketball operations, he helped to lead them to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003.  

Willis Reed stars at Grambling

Before his NBA career, Reed, a Lincoln Parrish, La. native, attended and starred at Grambling. He played for legendary Grambling head coach Fred Hobdy and scored 2,280 points in his four-year career. Reed averaged 26.6 points and 21.3 rebounds in his senior campaign. He led the Tigers to the 1961 NAIA national championship defeating Georgetown (Ky). 95-75 in the title game. He also led Grambling to three Southwestern Athletic Conference championships.

Willis Reed at Grambling State University

Grambling lost in the NAIA quarterfinals in Reed’s freshman season (1960). After winning the national title in 1961, Reed’s Tigers also fell in the 1963 NAIA semifinals.

HBCU, NBA legend Willis Reed passes
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