We put this list together with an eye towards those iconic moments rather than statistical achievement. Amar’e and Melo are on the list based on moments that may yet come, and Chris Childs made it for punching Kobe in the mouth. Hell, Greg Anthony basically made it for attending an NBA game wearing one of the ugliest shirts in human history.
Willis Reed is probably the first total package on this list. His iconic moment trumps all the others – his limping onto the MSG floor in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals is still the single unforgettable moment in Knicks history. But where a moment like that would get another guy onto the list, for Willis, you almost have to put that game aside for a moment to realize just what he meant to this franchise. Ten years and two titles, all with the Knicks: fourth all-time in franchise history in minutes; second in rebounds; third in points. He’s one of the NBA’s 50 at 50, the 1970 MVP and an All-NBA and All-Defense first team choice.
I ask you to discard his iconic moment momentarily because it isn’t fair to judge people that way. There is a player a little higher on this list – I think you know who I’m talking about – who would probably prefer that you judge him on his entire body of work rather than that thing he did one night. Let’s afford Willis the same courtesy: he could’ve limped out there for Game 7, sunk those first two shots and rode off into the sunset, ending up in the mid-teens on lists like this and enduring in memory for that one night of heroism. But the guy was a warrior on every other night too, putting up his numbers amidst a golden age of true centers like Bill Russell, Walt Bellamy, Wilt and Kareem, to whom he mostly gave up at least a couple of inches.
No one needs to tell you about Game 7 again, so here’s to Willis Reed, the man who brought us one incredible moment, two titles, and most importantly, 19 and 13 night in, night out for ten solid years.