Willis Reed, who led the New York Knicks to their first NBA Championship in 1970 and then again in 1973, died Tuesday at 80.
Reed's death was announced by the National Basketball Retired Players Association.
Reed was born on June 25, 1942, in Hico, Louisiana, and grew up playing basketball in segregated schools.
He went on to attend Grambling State University in his home state, where he led the No. 13 seed Grambling Tigers to the school's first NAIA championship in 1961, beating No. 3 seed Gonzaga.
In 2022, Grambling State retired Reed's number and named its home court after him.
His toughness and leadership caught the eyes of the New York Knicks, who drafted him in the second round of the 1964 NBA draft.
He played a crucial role in the team's success in the late '60s and early '70s, helping lead the Knicks to two NBA championships in 1970 and 1973. He was named Finals MVP both years.
One of Reed's most memorable moments came during Game Seven of the 1970 NBA Finals, where he famously played through a muscle tear in his thigh.
There was an emotional rush as he hobbled onto the court at New York's Madison Square Garden. While he only scored twice in the game, his grit gave his team the inspirational boost it needed to beat Wilt Chamberlain and the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers.
John Lent / AP
After 10 seasons in the NBA, Reed retired from basketball in 1974 and went on to coach for the Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982 and had his number, 19, retired by the Knicks.
Reed's legacy as a basketball player and leader will continue to inspire generations of players and fans alike. He will be remembered as one of the NBA's greatest of all time, and his contributions to the game won't be forgotten.
“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," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “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.”
Frank Franklin II / AP