By T. Scott Boatright
He led what was then known as Grambling College to its only men’s basketball national championship in 1961.
And he then went on to become the 10th overall pick (first in the second round) in the 1964 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks before moving on to become the first player in NBA history to win the league MVP, All-Star MVP, and Finals MVP all in the same season in 1970.
Now the Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer will receive yet another shining moment as Grambling State University is set to honor former GSU alum and NBA legend Willis Reed by retiring his collegiate jersey and naming the floor of the Fredrick C. Hobdy Assembly Center as “Willis Reed Court.”
The Bernice native played for Grambling from 1960-64 and averaged 18.7 points and 15.2 rebounds per game in his career while leading the team to two Southwestern Athletic Conference titles.
But it was that magical 1961 season in which the 6-10 forward led the Tigers to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national championship, roaring through three tourney games before defeating Georgetown (Kentucky) 95-75 in the title contest.
The 13th-seeded Tigers defeated No. 1 seed Westminster (Pennsylvania) in a semifinal game before topping No. 3 seed Georgetown for the only national basketball championship Grambling has ever won.
At Grambling, Reed scored 2,280 career points, averaging 26.6 points per game and 21.3 rebounds per game during his senior year.
“He was something special out there on the court and was a big part of that national championship team coached by Fred Hobdy,” said fellow GSU Legends Hall of Famer Wilbert Ellis about Reed. “Over the years he became a good friend and I still always look forward to getting to see him and talk to him.”
As a pro star for the Knicks, Reed’s accolades still speak for themselves:
- Two-time NBA Champion (1970, 1973)
- Two-time NBA Finals MVP (1970, 1973)
- NBA Most Valuable Player
- Seven-time NBA All-State (1965-71)
- NBA All-Star Game MVP (1971)
- All-NBA First Teamer (1970)
- Four-time All-NBA Second Teamer (1967-69, 1971)
- NBA All-Defensive First Team (1970)
• NBA Rookie of the Year (1965)
- NBA All-Rookie Team (1965)
- NBA 50th Anniversary Team member
- NBA 75th Anniversary Team member
Reed was inducted into the NAIA Basketball Hall of Fame in 1970 and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982.
Former GSU basketball and NBA player Aaron James has remained close to Reed for more than half a century now.
“I’ve known Willis for 50 years now,” James said. “Those old national championship team members used to come talk to the Grambling team during the summers when I was playing there. And as a college player, if you had some issues you needed to talk to someone about, Willis was always there.”
Reed was also there for James when James became a second-round draft pick by the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz in 1974.
“When I was drafted by the Jazz, Willis called me and introduced me to his attorney at that time, Larry Flasher, who was the best sports attorney in the market at that time. He was over the Retired Players Association and became my agent.”
Later, when James served as head men’s basketball coach and then athletics director for GSU, Reed remained his sounding board.
“Even when I was coaching and serving as athletic director at GSU, some situations sometimes came up and I’d always talk to Willis, because you knew you would always get a very honest opinion. He’d never tell you what to do, he’d tell you what he thought about it but that you should do what you thought you should.”
Following his playing career, which was cut short due to injuries at the age of 31, Reed went on to become head coach of the Knicks, at Creighton University and then the NBA’s New Jersey Nets. In 1989, he was hired as the Nets’ general manager and vice president of basketball operations. In 1996, Reed became the Nets’ senior vice president of basketball operations and later accepted the role of vice president of basketball operations with the New Orleans Hornets in 2004, holding that position until he retired in 2007.
Pregame and halftime ceremonies honoring Reed will be held during Grambling’s home men’s game against Southern on Saturday night on what has been dubbed “Legend’s Night” at GSU.
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