NBA commissioner Adam Silver and LeBron James led the tributes for New York Knicks legend Willis Reed, who sadly passed away aged 80 on Tuesday.
Reed’s death was announced by the National Basketball Retired Players Association, which had confirmed the news with his family. The cause of Reed’s death has not yet been released, but the legendary centre was believed to be in poor health and was unable to travel to New York in February when the Knicks honoured the 50th anniversary of their 1973 championship team.
Reed earned and has maintained the nickname, “The Captain”, after helping fire the Knicks to two NBA Championships in 1970 and 1973 - the franchises only two to date.
He famously powered through injury in the 1970 title win after picking up a thigh injury in Game 5 of the series between the Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers. As a result, he sat out Game 6 but made an epic comeback in Game 7, emerging from the tunnel while the two teams were warming up, which was met by cheers and roars from the crowd.
“And here comes Willis and the crowd is going wild,” radio announcer Marv Albert said. He made two quick jump shots in the early minutes of the game and saw the game out with a limp. Reed wasn’t in his best form, but the Knicks didn’t need it as they ran out 113-99 winners. During that title-winning season, Reed became the first player to sweep the MVP awards for the regular season, All-Star Game and NBA finals.
NBA commissioner Silver has led tributes for Reed alongside LeBron James, who took to Twitter posting a series of emojis to memorialise the Knocks icon. “Willis Reed was the ultimate team player and consummate leader. 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,” Silver said in a statement posted to social media. “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."
After his decade-long playing career, which came to an end in 1974 due to injury, Reed moved into coaching and took up a role at his beloved Knicks in 1977, where he would stay a year. Reed would then go on to coach at Creighton, the Atlanta Hawks, the Sacramento Kings and the New Jersey Nets.
Reed’s famous No19 was the first number retired by the Knicks and the 6ft10In icon was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 1982.
A Knicks statement reads: “The Knicks organisation is deeply saddened to announce the passing of our beloved Captain, Willis Reed. 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. His is a legacy that will live forever. We ask everyone to please respect the family's privacy during this difficult time."