Coming in with a humble family background from the beautiful State of Louisiana 6’9” Willis Reed made a dreamlike NBA career. A member of Phi Betta Sigma fraternity starred as a basketball player for the Grambling State University and was selected by the New York Knicks in 2nd round of the 1964 NBA draft.
The Knicks rookie soon made a name for himself by posting 19.5 ppg and 14.7 rpg over the 1964-65 season, en route to winning the NBA Rookie of the Year award and playing in the NBA All-Star game.
With his blue-collar style of play and fearless approach, the lefty power forward blended in perfectly with the Knicks, who were a losing team at the time, but did possess the ambition of becoming a contender.
The tide for the Knicks eventually turned when Red Holzman became the head coach, midway through the 1967-68 season. Holzman installed an aggressive defensive mentality highlighted by the play of Walt Frazier and Willis Reed, who both created the havoc all over the court in MSG.
Reed’s career reached its peak in the 1969-70 season when he became the first NBA player ever to win the NBA All-Star MVP award, NBA MVP award, and NBA Finals MVP award, along with selections to the All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team!
With 6’9” Reed in the middle, never intimidated and always eager to battle the much taller legends such as 7’1” Wilt Chamberlain and 7’2” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Knicks had finally reached the championship level in the early 1970s, winning the NBA championship titles in 1970 and 1973.
Reed played the most memorable game of his entire career on May 8th, 1970, in game 7 of NBA finals vs. the L.A. Lakers. At the time, Reed had a severe thigh injury and no-one expected him to play.
But, surprisingly, to everyone, he started the game! In front of the Knicks frenetic crowd, he opened the game by hitting the first two field goals for his eventual game total of four points. By doing so, he sparked the team and the crowd, thus setting the course for the Knicks to win the decisive game.
Reed retired after the 1973-74 NBA season. During his ten-year stint with the Knicks, he averaged 18.7ppg and 12.9rpg over 650 games, while also appearing in the total of seven NBA All-Star games.
Three years later, Reed took the head coaching helm of 1977-78 New York Knicks and posted a 43-39 season record. His coaching tenure will also be remembered for a bizarre episode in the 1978 NBA draft.
Reed, the head coach at the time, had reportedly insisted that GM Eddie Donovan select Michael Ray Richardson instead of Indiana State forward by the name of – Larry Bird.
Sure, Richardson became an instant star, a local hero, and quite a story for the Knicks and later the Nets, but it was Bird who reached a superstar level with the Boston Celtics, starring until 1992.
With his most unique mixture of precision passing and long-range shooting, Bird was a crucial factor in Boston’s 1980s success – the Celtics had won NBA championship titles in 1981, 1984, and 1986.
Blending rookie Richardson with a group of Knicks stars, which included Bob McAdoo, Earl Monroe, and Ray Williams didn’t do any good for Reed as the Knicks head coach. With team posting a mediocre 6-8 record, Reed was fired only 14 games into 1978-79 season by the Knicks owner Sonny Werblin.
It was a decade later, on March 1st, 1988, when Reed, took over the coaching helm of the struggling New Jersey Nets. Over the rest of the 1987-88 and complete 1988-89 season, he compiled a 33-77 record before being replaced by Bill Fitch. After his coaching tenure was over in 1989. Reed took over the position of the New Jersey Nets GM and Vice President of Basketball Operations.
During the following years, using lottery draft picks and trading for the rare gems, he assembled a real Beast in the East. The nucleus consisting of 1991 NBA Rookie of the Year Derrick Coleman, sharp-shooting European star Drazen Petrovic, and flashy point-guard Kenny Anderson, under the coaching helm of Chuck Daly, made the Nets one of the most exciting NBA’s ‘young guns’ of the early 1990s.
But then, when the Nets were on the verge of going even deeper in their postseason runs, adversity struck – Petrovic died in a tragic car accident on June 7th, 1993. Coleman and Anderson were never able to repeat their All-Star level from 1993-94. Daly was gone after that same season.
Reed eventually accomplished his mission with the Nets when the rejuvenated team led by Jason Kidd reached the 2002 and 2003 NBA finals, losing to Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, respectively.