Willis Reed reacts to LeBron's Game 4 return
MIAMI — Sitting in a trophy case in Willis Reed's home outside of Grambling, La., is a basketball autographed by LeBron James.
Reed and his wife, Gale, met James early in his career when he was with Cleveland. And Gale Reed had a request.
"She really is a big LeBron fan," Willis Reed said in a telephone interview Wednesday with FOX Sports Florida. "She's a little bit of a collector. So she had him autograph a ball, and it's in with some other basketballs in the trophy case."
When James, a Miami forward, went down with a leg cramp late in Tuesday's 104-98 win over Oklahoma City in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, and returned to hit a key 3-pointer, it reminded many of when Reed dramatically limped out for New York at Madison Square before a Game 7 win over the Lakers in the 1970 Finals. Reed, who had suffered a torn thigh muscle in Game 5 and missed Game 6, hit two early jumpers and inspired the Knicks in a 113-99 win.
After James' gallant effort, announcers talked about Reed's moment. So Gale, sitting in front of the television with Willis, turned to her husband.
"She asked, ‘Well, what do you think about it?"' Reed said. "They're talking about you. She wasn't there when that moment happened so she really doesn't know what it's all about (because the two weren't married until 1982)."
So does Willis Reed think it was a Willis Reed moment?
"It qualifies because they won the game, I guess," Reed said of the win that gave the Heat a 3-1 Finals lead. "That's the most important thing. The only difference is (the Heat) still got to win one more (for the title). ... I thought it was gutsy on (James') part. He surely was a gamer."
James couldn't walk when he came down with the cramps, and had to be carried off the court with 5:15 left in the game and Heat leading 92-90. He returned with 4:05 remaining and the Heat trailing 94-92. But, while being unable to drive or jump, he made a dramatic straightaway 3-pointer to put Miami up for good at 97-94 with 2:51 left
James was removed from the game with 55.5 seconds remaining, and Miami up 99-96. But his return certainly had inspired the Heat.
"We always chuckle at that," the retired Reed said about hearing somebody refer to a gutsy performance as a Willis Reed moment. "It's kind of always like that. When Paul Pierce left the court (in a wheelchair during Game 1 of the 2008 Finals for Boston against the Lakers) and then came back, they were calling that a Willis Reed moment. It is kind of. But it's kind of fun. I'm sure some people are saying, ‘Who is Willis Reed?' But if they are basketball fans, they know.
"It's nice to be mentioned in the same breath as LeBron. If you took his name anywhere in the world, nine out of 10 people would know who he is. ... That's good company to be mentioned with him."
Reed still gets reminded regularly about his big moment on May 8, 1970. The two jumpers he made actually were his only four points of the game, but the fact he played in so much discomfort has inspired many.
"It was painful, but it was for one game, and we all played for our teammates," Reed said. "If it was in LA, it might have been different, but obviously being at home at Madison Square Garden (made it memorable). The moment lives on because of TV. They always show the highlights of me walking out through the tunnel and out onto the court, and I make my first two shots. It's always been talked about. It has its own life."
While watching these Finals, Reed said his "heart's torn.'' He likes the Thunder because he had a great experience living in Oklahoma City from 2005-07 when the New Orleans Hornets played games there following Hurricane Katrina and he was a Hornets executive.
But Reed also likes the Heat. That's because he wants to see James win his first title.
"I hope that when all is said and done (in James' career), he will be able to get a championship," Reed said. "I think he wants to look himself in the mirror once he gets that ring and say, ‘I've kind of quieted my (critics).' But that won't do it either because there's always going to be people saying, 'How many rings does Kobe (Bryant) have (five)?"'
Reed, a Hall of Famer, also won a title with the Knicks in 1973. As for Reed's gutsy 1970 performance, James was asked after Game 4 about being linked to that moment and whether James thought he was in the middle of something special. James, though, didn't make any reference to Reed, saying he was just happy to "make a big shot in a big game,"
Whether it was a Willis Reed moment or not, Reed summed it up by saying how he believes Tuesday's incident should be remembered.
"I thought it was a LeBron James moment," he said. "It's his history that he's making.''
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson