After 24 years of NBA basketball in New York City, the New York Knicks had finally reached their crowning moment, winning their first championship. It was Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, and nobody knew if Willis Reed would play. The center and captain had suffered a torn muscle in his right thigh during Game 5 against the Los Angeles Lakers, and had not played in Game 6 when Wilt Chamberlain's 45 points and 27 rebounds enabled the Lakers to tie the series at 3-3. When the teams took the floor for pre-game warmups, Reed was not with his New York teammates. He remained in the lockerroom, deep in the Garden.
"I wanted to play," Reed recalls. "That was for the championship, the one great moment you play for all your life. I didn't want to have to look at myself in the mirror 20 years later and say I wished I had tried to play."
Reed took an injection to dull the pain in his leg, and just moments before tipoff, he limped through the tunnel and onto the court. Waves of cheers cascaded down from the Garden stands as fans caught sight of the Knicks' captain, a sight that was not lost on New York's opponents.
"I saw the whole Laker team standing around staring at this man," said Knicks guard Walt Frazier. "When I saw that, when they stopped warming up, something told me we might have these guys!"
Reed lined up against Chamberlain for the opening tap and scored the Knicks' first two baskets of the game. Those would prove to be his only points, but his presence was more than enough to inspire the Knicks to a 113-99 victory and the franchise's first NBA Championship. Overshadowed by Reed's emotion-charged effort was one of the great playoff performances in NBA history by Frazier, who led the Knicks with 36 points and 19 assists.