Throwback Thursday - Willis Reed
Willis Reed, Jr., born June 25, 1942, spent his entire professional playing career (1964–1974) with the New York Knicks. In 1982, Reed was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In 1996, he was voted one of the "50 Greatest Players in NBA History".
After retiring as a player, Reed served as assistant and head coach with several teams for nearly a decade, then was promoted to General Manager and Vice President of Basketball Operations (1989 to 1996) for the New Jersey Nets. As Senior Vice President of Basketball, he led them to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003.
The New York Knicks selected Reed in the second round, with the eighth overall selection, in the 1964 NBA draft. 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 a Knicks rookie. For the season, he ranked seventh in the NBA in scoring (19.5 points per game) and fifth in rebounding (14.7 rebounds per game). He also began his string of All-Star appearances and won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award while also being named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
Reed proved to be a clutch playoff performer throughout his career. He gave an early indication of this in 1966–67 when he bettered his regular-season average of 20.9 points per game by scoring 27.5 points per contest in the postseason.
He played center. Despite his relatively average stature for a basketball player, he made up for his lack of height by playing a physical game, often ending seasons with respectable averages in blocking and rebounding. (He stood 6-foot-9 when contemporaries such as Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stood 7-1 and 7–2, respectively.)
The team continued to struggle for a few years while adding good players through trades and the draft. Dick McGuire was replaced as coach with Red Holzman, midway through the 1967–68 season. The Knicks had gone 15–22 under McGuire; Holzman steered them to a 28–17 finish. In 1968, New York's record was 43–39, its first winning record since 1958–59.
Reed continued to make annual appearances in the NBA All-Star Game. By this time, he was playing power forward, in order to make room for Walt Bellamy. Reed averaged 11.6 rebounds in 1965–66 and 14.6 in 1966–67, both top-10 marks in the league. By the latter season, he had adjusted to the nuances of his new position, averaging 20.9 points to rank eighth in the NBA.
New York won 54 games in 1968–69, after a 6–10 start. On December 19, the Knicks traded Bellamy and Howard Komives to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Dave DeBusschere. "Since that trade, I feel like a new person", Reed said at the time. "Center is my position."
In 1968–69, New York held opponents to a league-low 105.2 points per game. With Reed clogging the middle and Walt Frazier pressuring the ball, the Knicks would be the best defensive club in the league for five of the next six seasons.
Reed scored 21.1 points per game in 1968–69 and grabbed a franchise record 1,191 rebounds, an average of 14.5 rebounds per game.