Ranking the 50 greatest NBA players of all time

The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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Photo by Dan Farrell/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images /

38. Willis Reed

  • Resume: 10 seasons, 2 NBA championships, 2 NBA Finals MVP Awards, 1 regular season MVP Award, 5-time All-NBA selection, 7-time NBA All-Star, NBA All-Star Game MVP, Rookie of the Year Award, 1-time NBA All-Defensive Team, Hall-of-Famer
  • Stats: 18.7 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 1.8 APG, .476/—/.747 shooting splits, 18.6 career PER, 74.9 win shares

If you didn’t know anything about Willis Reed, you’d take a look at his career numbers and the relatively short amount of time he spent in the league and wonder how this guy made the Hall of Fame. But ask any New Yorker who was alive on May 8, 1970, and they’ll tell you the story of one of the greatest sports moments of the last century.

It goes a little something like this: The Knicks were about to play Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the favored Lakers at Madison Square Garden, only star center Reed was doubtful to play because of a torn muscle in his thigh — an injury that had kept him sidelined for Game 6. But Reed appeared in the tunnel and walked onto the court for warmups, igniting a crowd that went absolutely ballistic when he promptly knocked down his first two looks of the game.

Reed didn’t score the rest of the game, but he didn’t need to; the Knicks’ crowd had turned into a sixth man and Walt Frazier carried New York the rest of the way. The Lakers never got in the game because Reed absolutely sucker-punched them. It’s worth repeating: DUDE HAD A TORN MUSCLE IN HIS FREAKING LEG WHEN HE DID THIS.

One moment isn’t enough to make a Hall of Fame career, however, so we should mention that Reed was a ruthless enforcer in the paint who put up 21.7 points and 13.9 rebounds per game in his MVP season. He retired abruptly because of injuries, but Reed might be the greatest Knickerbocker of all time simply because of the moment that brought New York basketball its first title.