Former professional basketball player, Willis Reed, Jr., was born in Dubach, Louisiana, on June 25, 1942. He grew up on a farm in Bernice in the Pelican State, where his parents were determined to find him a proper education despite the segregation in the south. His career trajectory soon took off in the direction of sports, where he would eventually serve as a player, coach and general manager.
Reed was always athletic, playing basketball at an early age and even making the varsity basketball team at West Side High School in Lillie. After graduation, Reed enrolled at Grambling State University, a historically black, public, coeducational university. Reed started for the school’s basketball team and quickly out-shined other players. During his collegiate career, he scored 2,280 total points, averaging 26.6 points per game and 21.3 rebounds per game during his senior year. He helped the team win a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) title and several Southwestern Athletic Conference Championships.
After graduating from college, Willis Reed was selected in the second round of the 1964 NBA draft by the New York Knicks. Early on in his career, Reed dominated the court; in one game during his rookie season, Reed scored 46 points against the Los Angeles Lakers, the second highest single-game total ever by a rookie on the Knicks. At the end of the season, he won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award and was named the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
Throughout his career, Reed remained a revered player, consistently scoring high and making the All-Star team a number of times. Despite Reed’s talent, the Knicks struggled for several years, but when the team did make the playoffs, Reed remained just as dependable as ever, averaging roughly 27.5 points per contest in the postseason.
By the 1969-1970 season, the Knicks were back in the running, even going on an 18-game win-streak. The team went to the championship series that season, and Reed shocked fans by starting Game 7 of the series after missing Game 6 due to a torn muscle in his thigh. That year, Willis Reed became the first player in the history of the NBA to be awarded the titles of NBA All-Star Game MVP, NBA regular season MVP and NBA Finals MVP in the same season.
The Knicks won another championship following the 1972-1973 season, when Reed was again named NBA Finals MVP. He remained a respected player on the court throughout 10 whole seasons; at the conclusion of the 1973-1974 season, he retired due to his injuries.
Following retirement, Reed coached multiple teams, including the Knicks, Creighton University’s men’s basketball, St. John’s University’s men’s basketball, the Sacramento Kings and the Atlanta Hawks.
On March 1, 1988, Reed debuted as the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets’ head coach. He was hired as the team’s General Manager and Vice President of Basketball Operations, where he remained into the early 2000s. His guidance helped the team improve greatly, sending them to the NBA Finals for two consecutive years.
Willis Reed completely retired from basketball in 2007 after leaving a major impact on the entire association, for athletes and fans alike.