• On the rebound Knicks, rich and miserable

Willis Reed, who dramatically walked out of the locker room minutes before Game Seven of the NBA Finals in 1970 to lead the New York Knicks to their first championship and set one example of sacrifice for his team despite the pain, died Tuesday. He was 80 years old.

The NBA Retired Players Association announced his death and confirmed it through his family. He did not give the cause of his death, but Reed's health had recently deteriorated and he was unable to travel to New York for the 50th anniversary of the Knicks team that won the championship in 1973 during the game against New Orleans on February 25.

The Knicks tweeted a photo of Reed entering the court as his teammates warmed up for the deciding game in 1970, one of the most memorable moments in NBA history and Madison Square Garden.

"In grieving, we will always strive to maintain the standards he left us – the unmatched leadership, sacrifice and work ethic that epitomized him as a champion among champions," the team said. "His is a legacy that will live on forever."

Known as "El Capitan," Reed was a small center and an emotional leader on the Knicks' two championship teams. He had a delicate outside shot and toughness when fighting for the ball in an era of tall players in the paint.

He was elected to seven All-Star Games and awarded the Most Valuable Player in two NBA Finals, achievements that alone would have led him to his induction into the Hall of Fame. In the 1969-70 season he became the first player to sweep the MVP voting of the regular season, the All-Star Game and the NBA Finals.

But his place in history was secured by appearing on the court in that final match of the season.

Reed injured his thigh in the fifth game of the series against the Lakers, writhing in pain. No one, not even his teammates, knew what Reed's status was, as he was still receiving treatment before game seven. Both teams were warming up when Reed emerged from the tunnel and fans stood up and cheered.

"Here comes Willis and the fans go crazy," said radio host Marv Albert.

Willis Reed (19) of the New York Knicks, in 1970, at an NBA game at Madison Square Garden.JOHN LENT | AP

The Lakers stopped to watch Reed, who had two shots from distance in the opening minutes and limped down the court. He didn't score again, but the Knicks didn't need him. Thanks to the return of their captain and the 36 points and 19 assists of Walt Frazier, they prevailed 113-99 to conquer their first NBA title.

Reed was unable to recover as easily from injuries in the following years and played only 11 games in the 1971–72 campaign. He returned the following year and led the team to its second title. After playing just 19 games in 1973-74, he retired with a knee injury with just 10 seasons as a professional.

That was enough to finish with 12,000 points. and 8,400 rebounds, which remain among the Knicks' top three marks.

Born June 25, 1942, in Hico, Louisiana, he played collegiately in his home state and led Grambling State to the NAIA title in 1961. The school retired his number and named the court in his honor in 2022.

His number 19 was the first to be retired by the Knicks and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.

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