Remembering Willis Reed, Jr.

Willis Reed, Jr.

June 25, 1942, was a day of importance to the Reed family of Hico, Louisiana.  A son was born to Willis Reed, Sr., and Inell Ross Reed. They had no idea that this little boy they named Willis Reed, Jr., would touch so many people across the country by becoming an NBA great.

Willis was educated through the Union Parish School System, upon graduating from high school, he entered his collegiate career at Grambling College, now Grambling State University. 

Willis Reed, a Basketball Hall of Famer whose legacy as a champion was forever embodied by his nickname of “The Captain,” died on March 21, 2023, at the age of 80.

Reed’s unforgettable ten year playing career with the New York Knickerbockers (1964-65 through 1973-74) resulted in five All-NBA designations, seven All-Star Game appearances, and the League’s Rookie of the Year award in 1964-65, the first Knick to be so honored. Among the franchise’s all-time leaders, he ranks third in total points (12,183), second in rebounds (8,414), eighth in games played (650) and forth in minutes (23,073).

In 1969-70, Reed authored one of the single most memorable seasons in NBA history. Leading the Knicks to their first NBA title, he averaged 21.7 points and was honored as the League’s Most Valuable Player, All-Star Game MVP and NBA Finals MVP, becoming the first player to sweep the League’s “Triple Crown” of awards in one season. Hobbled by a painful thigh injury, his last-minute appearance lifted the Knicks to a Game Seven triumph in The Finals over the Los Angeles Lakers at Madison Square Garden, in one of American sports’ signature moments.

Three years later, Reed won NBA Finals MVP honors for the second time as the Knicks again defeated the Lakers for their second NBA title. For his career, he averaged 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds, and remains the only Knick ever to be named NBA MVP.

The first Knick to have his uniform number retired (no. 19 on October 21, 1976), he was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1981. He was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History as part of the League’s Golden Anniversary in 1996-97, then was named one of the League’s 75 Greatest Players at the 75th Anniversary in 2021-22.

Reed coached the Knicks for two seasons, and also piloted the New Jersey Nets for two years. He served for 16 years as a coach and executive with the Nets, including eight years as general manager/vice president of basketball operations. In 1996, he was named Nets senior vice president and was a member of New Jersey’s back-to-back Eastern Conference Championship teams of 2002 and 2003. He returned to the Knicks for one season (2003-04) as special basketball advisor, then served for three years as vice president, basketball operations for the New Orleans-Oklahoma City Hornets before retiring to his native Louisiana in Summer 2007.

He also served as an assistant coach for the Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings, as well as a four-year stint as head coach at Creighton University (1981-82 through 1984-85).

The Knicks’ second-round pick (10th overall) in the 1964 NBA Draft, Reed averaged 18.7 points in four years at HBCU powerhouse Grambling State University under legendary coach Fred Hobdy. A member of Grambling’s 1961 NAIA championship team, he was elected to the NAIA Basketball Hall of Fame in 1970. In 2022, the basketball court at Grambling was named in his honor. As a senior, he averaged 26.6 points per game and 21.3 rebounds per contest. While a student, Reed became a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. In 1963, he helped the United States win a gold medal in the Pan American Games held in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The fields and ponds of the wilderness were special places for Willis. He was an avid outdoorsman and spent much of his free-time hunting and fishing across the United States with his friends. He retired to a beautiful property in Ruston, Louisiana where he helped design two ponds and much of the house and landscaping on the property at his retirement home.

Willis was also known for the tremendous amount of charity work during his career, especially supporting various children’s charities. In his retirement, he was a strong supporter of Grambling State University and his church.

The family will have an additional memorial service that will be announced in the future. Any donations in his name should be made payable to Grambling State University Athletic Department, in honor of Willis Reed.

Along with his parents, Willis was preceded in death by his son, Karl.

Left to cherish his legacy are his wife, Gale Kennedy Reed; whom he married in 1983 and has been his loyal fan, supporter and teammate for 40 years, his children from a previous marriage, Veronica and Virginia Jackson-Reed; one grandson, Austin Reed; mother-in-law, Mollie Griffin; four aunts, Mattie Bell Woolridge (Larnceen), Maggie Moton, Mattie Daye, and Namoi Ross; two uncles, Curlee Ross, MD, JD, and Charles Wayne Ross; and a host of relatives and friends.