‘Our beloved Captain’: New York Knicks legend Willis Reed dies at 80

NEW YORK — Legendary New York Knicks center Willis Reed, a Hall of Famer and a seven-time All-Star, has died at the age of 80.

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The National Basketball Retired Players Association announced Reed’s death on Tuesday. According to The Associated Press, the association confirmed the news through Reed’s family.

Reed’s death was also confirmed by his former teammate and former U.S. senator Bill Bradley, according to The New York Times. Reed had congestive heart issues. However, his cause of death is not clear.

Reed could not travel to New York when the Knicks honored the 50th anniversary of their 1973 NBA championship team during their Feb. 25 game against New Orleans, the AP reported.

The basketball community has lost a Legend. Our hearts are with the family, friends, and fans of Willis Reed,” the National Basketball Retired Players Association said on Twitter.

Reed was nicknamed “the Captain,” because he was “the undersized center” and helped lead the Knicks to two NBA championship teams, according to the AP.

“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. 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,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.

Reed’s accomplishments also include two NBA finals MVP awards. According to the AP, during the 1969-1970 season, Reed became the first player to sweep the MVP awards for the All-Star Game, the NBA Finals, and the regular season.

“The Knicks organization is deeply saddened to announce the passing of our beloved Captain, Willis Reed, As we mourn, we will always strive to uphold the standards he left behind - the unmatched leadership, sacrifice and work ethic that personified him as a champion among champions. His is a legacy that will live forever. We ask everyone to please respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time,” the New York Knicks said on Twitter.

During Game 5 of the NBA Finals at Madison Square Garden, Reed tore his right tensor muscle during the first quarter. According to the Times, the muscle originates in the hip and goes into the thigh. He sat out the rest of the game and missed Game 6, which the Los Angeles Lakers won behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 45 points.

On May 8, 1970, in the decisive Game 7 of the NBA Finals, Reed emerged from the players’ tunnel to the cheers of the MSG crowd.

“You’re five stories above the ground and I swear you could feel the vibrations,” Reed said in 2009, according to the Times. “I thought, ‘This is what an earthquake must feel like.’”

Reed played Game 7 with a noticeable limp and made just two left-handed jump shots in the contest. But his inspired teammates, led by Walt Frazier’s 36 points and 19 assists, carried the Knicks to a 113-99 victory and the franchise’s first NBA title.

Reed only played 11 games during the 1971-72 season, according to Pro-Basketball-Reference.com. He then only played 19 games during the 1973-74 season because of his knee injury that led to his retirement. According to Pro-Basketball-Reference.com, Reed scored 12,183 points and had 8,414 rebounds.

Reed’s No. 19 jersey was retired by the team on Oct. 21, 1976. His jersey was the first to be retired by the Knicks, according to the Times. Reed was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982.

Reed went on to coach or work in the front office for the Knicks, the New Jersey Nets, and the New Orleans Hornets, according to the newspaper. He also coached at Creighton University from 1981 to 1985 and went on to become an assistant coach in the NBA for the Atlanta Hawks and the Sacramento Kings.

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