Remembering Willis Reed: Captain, leader, and legend

Coutesy photo illustration

“A tree is known by its fruit: a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost. He who sows courtesy reaps friendship and he who plants kindness gathers love,” – Saint Basil. 

Willis Reed’s deeds speak for themselves. His contributions and influence transcended the basketball court.

The legendary Reed was born on June 25, 1942, in Hico, Louisiana. Reed’s superior athletic abilities were first displayed at West Side High School, where he led the school’s basketball and football teams to state championships.

After high school, Reed attended Grambling State University. He would play for the Tigers between 1961 and 1964. During his time with the Tigers, he scored 2,280 career points. More importantly, he led the basketball program to a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championship and three Southwestern Athletic Conference. Reed’s number 50 hangs from the rafters of the Willis Reed court.

 “This is the house Willis built,” said former NBA player and Grambling alumnus, Larry Wright pointing to the Willis Reed court as he eulogized his former mentor recently in the Fredrick C. Hobdy Assembly Center.

Fortuna must have been smiling on the New York Knicks when they decided to have Reed as their first pick of the second round of the 1964 NBA Draft. This was arguably the organization’s best decision. 

“Captain,”  as Reed was at times referred to, went on to lead the Knicks to their first two NBA championships (1969-70 and 1970-71). It was during the Knicks’ championship run of 1969-70 that Reed would carve his name in basketball folklore. 

The stage was set, game seven against the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Championship Finals in 1971. Reed had missed Game Six due to a torn thigh muscle and was a major doubt for Game Seven, too. 

So great an impact he had on the team that his presence alone inspired those around him.

 “When Willis Reed came out of the tunnel, it was the loudest sound I’ve ever heard. The entire Lakers team turned around to watch…. the game was won right there,” narrated movie director and Knicks’ diehard fan, Spike Lee in a highlight film of that shining moment in sports history . That season Reed became the first player in the history of the NBA to be named All-Star Game MVP, regular season MVP, and finals MVP.

There is no doubt Reed was a great player. However, the kind of person he was, superseded his renown as a player. 

“He was a great player but an even more amazing human being,” said former NBA and Grambling player Aaron James as he spoke during Reed’s funeral. 

“There is nothing Willis Reed wouldn’t do for you … He is the Captain forever,” added Wright.

Reed was a man of integrity.

 “Today I bid farewell to a man I’ve known and admired my entire life. A man of integrity and character who used his talents to inspire and uplift others,” eulogized Grambling State University’s president, Richard Gallot Jr.

Rest in peace Captain, leader, and legend, and thank you.