On Tuesday, the New York Knicks announced that Willis Reed—the unifying force behind their two NBA championship titles and the man responsible for one of the sports’ most iconic moments in NYC—had passed away at 80 years old.

Before the renowned Derek Jeter came into play, “The Captain” – Reed – had already made a name for himself by playing in 10 seasons with the New York Knicks. Upon his retirement from NBA in 1974, he served as their coach and general manager.

During his time with the Nets, he served as both a coach and an executive while they were based in New Jersey. From 2004-2007, he had similar roles for the New Orleans Hornets.

“As we mourn, we will always strive to uphold the standards he left behind,” Knicks’ statement read. “His is a legacy that will live forever.”

As the inaugural Knicks player to have his number retired, and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame since 1982, Walt Reed is considered one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history. His legacy was solidified during an illustrious 1996-97 season that honored his position amongst basketball’s elite players.

But it was in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals that Reed immortalized himself with a performance for the ages, one that will forever be remembered by basketball fans from Madison Square Garden to every corner of the league.

During Game 5 against the Lakers, a hard fall on his drive to the basket left Reed injured and unable to play in Game 6. Despite this setback, the Knicks were still able to secure a victory without him — something made possible by their leader’s performance; 37 points in game one, 29 in two, 38 for three, and 23 for four had set them up well before he was sidelined. As a result of New York’s win and LA overcame this adversity with an evened series at three games each heading into game six.

When the series returned to Madison Square Garden for Game 7, everyone wondered if Reed would be able to play – not even his teammates could predict what he would do after injuring his right thigh a few days prior.

In reality, the Knicks started their pregame warm-up without him.

“We left the locker room … not knowing if Willis was going to come out or not,” years later, Bill Bradley – the forward on those illustrious championship teams – recalled his experience.

After a mere 15 minutes, they received an overwhelming response.

The Garden reverberated with raucous cheers when Reed triumphantly emerged from the tunnel, soon to be known as “the Willis Reed Tunnel,” and entered the court. Despite being remodeled more than three decades later, this moment was etched into memory forever.

As the Lakers geared up for their workout, Reed’s arrival elicited intent gazes and intense focus.

As the roaring crowd erupted in a cacophony of cheers, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor all redirected their attention to the opposite end of the court, where Reed had rejoined his teammates.

“I saw the whole Laker team standing around staring at this man,” Walt Frazier, Reed’s teammate, was unstoppable that night with an explosive 36 points and 19 assists!

“They stopped doing what they were doing to look and see how Willis was. Something told me then man, they’re very concerned. We may have these guys.”

Years later, Reed reflected back on his pregame cortisone injection with determination; he knew he would play no matter what.

“This was something we all wanted very badly,” he stated. “It was so close you could touch it. It’s one game. It was what I dreamed of as a high school kid. It was what I worked so hard in college for. Not only me but everyone in that locker room. The coaches. Management.

“For me to not go out there to try and be a part of that, to try and give whatever I could — and I didn’t know what it was — then I would be letting them down and letting myself down. If I tried and failed that’s the way I wanted it.

“I didn’t want to be a guy who didn’t come out and show he had the guts and grit to be there. … That was the moment to try.”

With his left hand, Reed – thigh tightly bandaged – flung the ball towards the top of the key and scored the first basket of the game.

Reed confidently drained another 20-footer on his next trip down the court, and he didn’t need to contribute any other points for his team to win.

With a lead of up to 29 points in the first half, the Knicks had no trouble taking home their first-ever NBA championship with an impressive 113-99 win.

“I thought the game was over at that point,” Reed stated. “Once I made those two shots … if there was ever any doubt in our minds, there was no doubt. I didn’t score any more points but from that point on Clyde and [Dave] DeBusschere and the rest of the guys took over.”

On June 25th, 1942, Willis Reed Jr. made his debut in the small town of Hico, Louisiana. — “They don’t even have a population,” he stated — Hailing from Bernice, La., he was raised on a farm and later attended Grambling State University. Whilst there, Charles went on to lead the Tigers to earn an NAIA title as well as three Southwestern Athletic Conference titles – truly remarkable accomplishments!

Even though the Knicks were frequently unsuccessful during that era, they still chose him with a remarkable eighth overall pick in the second round of the 1964 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-10 and 235-pound Reed, occupying the position of power forward alongside Walt Bellamy at the center, endured several consecutive seasons as a New York Knick in spite of their losses.

In 1967-68, when Red Holzman replaced Dick McGuire as the head coach of the Knicks, they finished 43-39 after a long nine-year absence from winning seasons. It was their first successful season since 1958-59.

On Dec. 19, 1968, the New York Knicks made a pivotal trade to promote their team’s success: sending Bellamy and Howard Komives for Dave DeBusschere from the Detroit Pistons. This allowed Willis Reed to shift his role from forward to center in what would eventually be an incredibly beneficial move for both teams involved.

“Since that trade, I feel like a new person,” at the moment, Reed said. “Center is my position.”

With their defense vastly enhanced, the Knicks triumphed 54 times and advanced to playoffs that season. This opened up a pathway for them to declare themselves world champions in the following year!

For the second time, they achieved victory in the 1972-73 season and defeated the Lakers with an impressive 5 game series. Furthermore, Reed was honorably named Finals MVP for his remarkable efforts.

He was an All-Star seven times in his career, with a record of 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds per game – the highest average to date! Following the 1964-65 season he won Rookie Of The Year honors as the first New York Knick ever to receive this honor; then followed that up by being named MVP after the 1969-70 season, making it two awards in five years for him.

During the 1973-74 season, he would only play in 19 matches before completely retiring from the game after sitting out of all games during the following season.

When Holzman left the team in 1977, Reed stepped in as coach and managed a veteran squad to an impressive 43-39 record. Nonetheless, only 14 games into the next season he was let go when fresh leadership took over.

Reed served as a volunteer assistant coach at St. John’s before assuming the head coaching position with Creighton for four years in the early 1980s and then went on to become an assistant coach for both the Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings.

After joining the Nets as head coach in February 1988, he successfully coached them through the subsequent season and was rewarded with a promotion to general manager by 1993.

“Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t remind me of that game,” Reed reflected fondly on the night of 1970. “It was our moment in time.”