On May 8, 1970, the New York Knicks defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the seventh game of the NBA Finals to win their first NBA championship.
The Knicks managed only one winning season between 1955 and 1966. Desperate to improve, the team took Willis Reed in the second round of the 1964 draft. Reed hailed from Grambling State University, where he had amassed 2,280 career points and averaged 26.6 points and 21.3 rebounds per game during his senior year.
A natural center, Reed began his career with the Knicks playing power forward. Although he was named Rookie of the Year for 1965, the Knicks still floundered. A turnaround finally began during the 1967-68 season, when the Knicks hired coach William “Red” Holzman, a defensive tactician who demanded that his team begin to play as a unit. In 1968, the Knicks traded center Walt Bellamy and forward Howard Komives to the Detroit Pistons for forward Dave DeBusschere. DeBusschere, a former Chicago White Sox pitcher, was a talented athlete, and he played power forward, which allowed Reed to switch back to center. The 1969-70 Knicks team featured DeBusschere, forward Bill Bradley, big man Willis Reed and guard Walt “Clyde” Frazier, all future Hall of Famers. The team finished the regular season with a 60-22 record, including an 18-game winning streak, on their way to the Eastern Division title. Reed was voted the regular-season Most Valuable Player, as well as the All-Star Game MVP.
After disposing of the Baltimore Bullets and Milwaukee Bucks in seven- and five-game series, the Knicks met another talented squad in the 1970 NBA finals: the Los Angeles Lakers, led by 7-foot-1-inch center Wilt Chamberlain, guard Jerry West and forward Elgin Baylor. In the first four games of the series, Reed dominated, scoring 37, 29, 38 and 23 points, respectively, while averaging 15 rebounds.
A thigh injury suffered in Game 5 forced Reed to the bench for Game 6, which the Lakers dominated, winning 135-113. On May 8, with Reed’s status in limbo, Madison Square Garden filled up for Game 7. Reed limped onto the court a few minutes before tip-off, and made his first two shots. Though they were the only two baskets Reed would make in the game, they made an emotional impact on both the team and the Madison Square Garden fans, and set the Knicks on the road to victory. Walt Frazier took up the slack, scoring 36 points and making 19 assists in the Knicks’ 113-99 rout of the Lakers to win their first NBA title. In recognition of his dominance in the first five games, Reed was named Most Valuable Player of the series.