There’s a certain gasp of annoyed disbelief when you go to the movies, and it’s an action film, and just one man is making like Achilles, effortlessly bashing the brains out of the dozens of hulky villains attacking him. It’s fun to watch, but it’s certainly not realistic. Neither is what New York Knicks legend Willis Reed did to the Los Angeles Lakers in an October 1966 game.
ESPN’s latest edition of their “30 for 30” documentary series — “When the Garden was Eden,” about the Knicks boys of yore — features previously lost footage of Reed maniacally plowing through most of the Lakers roster with a sequence of impressively rageful haymakers. It’s the stuff of cinema, and you won’t believe it unless you see it:
As the scene’s narrator Phil Jackson (once Reed’s teammate, now a Knicks executive) tells it, Lakers players Rudy LaRusso and Henry Finkel both sustained broken jaws from Reed’s outburst. The league, apparently, was only able to fine him $50.00 for his breach of the rules. The NBA’s come a long way since then; now, you’d likely go a season without salary for that kind of behavior.
Reed’s most indelible moment, of course, was his heroic performance in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. Reed made a surprise appearance despite having recently torn a muscle in his right thigh. He delighted Manhattan by limping through the tunnel just moments before the game began, having just received a large dose of cortisone to dull the pain and make one last push toward New York’s first ever pro basketball championship.
He only scored twice, but they were the game’s first two baskets, and his immediate impact electrified the crowd. The Knicks went on to grab an emotional 113-99 victory and the Larry O’Brien trophy. As indelible as that moment is, though, it’ll be hard for anyone to scrub their mind of the image of Reed as a mercilessly punching tornado after watching this clip.
— John Wilmes