Willis Reed Credit: Public domain photo

In 2023 the world celebrates the anniversary of a NYC subculture that changed perceptions, provided opportunities, and ultimately morphed into a billion dollar a year enterprise.  Here at the crib, some real, REAL New Yorkers celebrate and commiserate another historic milestone in the annals of the city’s history. The coronation of the New York Knicks as NBA Champions in the 1972-1973 was to be the start of a Dynastic run. Although it failed in that regard, that chip defined and standardized what the epitome of New York basketball looked like. Under the guidance of Head Coach Red Holzman, the concept of highly intellectualized team-orientated play reigned, replete with personal sacrifice; coupled with that workman demeanor and hardcore interior and exterior aggression that follows New Yorkers throughout the world, the New York Knicks’ overall makeup was inherent and reflective of the town. There was room, however, to display that highlight reel entertainment commonly seen in today’s game with the Rolls Royce backcourt tandem of Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and Walt “Clyde” Frazier. Finally, there’s that intangible factor no one can pinpoint, but it’s definitely needed to reach the pinnacle: leadership. Who’s willing to do whatever it takes to take the team over the top? We had that, y’all, in our Captain Willis Reed. His presence alone exuded, without saying a word: If you’re better than me at ball, then you gotta prove it. But we will not be out-thought, out-worked, or out-fought. We want the smoke—no excuses.

That lionheart was crystallized into legend on May 8, 1970. Game seven, for all the marbles, at Madison Square Garden. A severe injury in game five kept him out of game six, which the Knicks lost and, more importantly, gave the opposing Los Angeles Lakers the confidence that the Championship is foregone. Nahh! With the mind over matter, all-hands-on deck mentality came a limping Willis, donned in his warmups, serving notice that he was there. In retrospect, with the way the crowd reacted, that limp may have been a diddy bop, displaying the utmost confidence in victory. 

Teammate Walt Frazier, perhaps the best player on the team, told the Athletic in 2021, “I’ll never forget [Jerry] West, Chamberlain, [Elgin] Baylor, three of the greatest players of all time, they stopped doing what they were doing and just started staring at Willis. I said to myself, ‘Man, we’ve got these guys.’ That gave me so much confidence. They were so concerned Willis was going to play.”

Scoring the first two baskets of the game, his only scoring contribution in 27 minutes of action, provided all the octane necessary as Frazier dominated the game scoring 36 points and handing out 19 assists led New York its first NBA title. Frazier owned the night, but history documents it as “The Willis Reed Game.” 

“Heart like Willis Reed, top thief and scorer in the league” wasn’t just another namecheck. It’s from the man, Allen Iverson, who’s been acknowledged for having the biggest heart in his or any era of the NBA and he rapped this in a commercial for his signature sneaker, the Reebok Answer 6, while he was in his prime, two decades after it occurred. 

for a kid hailing from the HBCU Grambling State, boasting laurels of NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 1965, a seven-time All-Star, a five-time All-NBA selection, and a spot on the NBA’s 50th and 75th anniversary teams. He was also the first to flex Most Valuable Player Awards for the All-Star Game, regular season, and NBA Finals. He did his thing, but again, Walt Frazier put it in proper perspective.

“The three guys considered to be the greatest Knicks of all time: myself, Willis, and Patrick Ewing,” Frazier told the Athletic. “If Willis Reed did not have the injuries that he had, it would not be, ‘Who’s the greatest Knick of all time?’ I’m wearing two championship rings now. I would be wearing more if Willis Reed could have remained healthy. There would be no doubt about who’s the greatest Knick of all time. The way that this man played the game, the respect that he had, the leadership, we’ve never had another leader like Willis Reed. I always say he’s the greatest Knick of all time, because I learned from Willis Reed.”
It was announced on Tuesday by the National Basketball Retired Players Association, that Willis Reed had physically left us. The Knicks tweeted a photograph picturing Reed from behind walking onto the floor as his teammates were warming up for the 1970 finale, one of the most memorable moments in NBA and Madison Square Garden history.

“As we mourn, we will always strive to uphold the standards he left behind—the unmatched leadership, sacrifice, and work ethic that personified him as a champion among champions,” the team said. “His is a legacy that will live forever.”

With all due respect to Grandmaster Caz, Derek Jeter, Aaron Judge, and all other esteemed legends of New York lore that bore the title, New York lost the ultimate Captain. Rest in peace, Willis Reed, and hopefully you can spark Jalen, RJ, Quick and Jules! Over and out. Holla next week. Til then, enjoy the nightlife.  

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