The Debut Of "Well Actually", A Series Telling The Real Facts Of "Great" Sports Moments. Volume 1: Willis Reed Walks Out Of The Tunnel

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Frank The Tank recently reminded us that May 8th was the day Willis Reed "came out of the tunnel", a Knicks legend, back when the Knicks were a powerhouse in the NBA, which seems like a long long time ago. The Knicks should always be at the top of the NBA and it's great they will be back in the playoffs this spring but long gone are the days of The Orange and Blue hanging banners. Some would say a lot of that has to do with James Dolan being one, if not the worst, owners in all of sports, which has driven away free agent after free agent and made the place a circus. That's a story for another day. Today we talk about Willis Reed. 

Now to preface this blog, in sports it seems like sometimes the glitz and glamor of a story takes precedent over the actual facts. One of my favorite stories in sports was Rickey Henderson asking John Olerud why he wore a helmet in the field. Olerud explained he had an aneurysm at age twenty and wore the helmet as a precaution. Henderson said "That's interesting I played with a guy like that in New York." Olerud than said, "Yeah Rickey that was me." It lived on in folklore for what seemed like forever. Olerud finally debunked the story as nothing more than fable. There's a million different things in sports that somewhere along the line, the real story gets lost in the mix. Hence time for a "well actually" type of series that gives unbiased facts of the moments in sports. 

Which brings us to Willis Reed.

For as long as I can remember "Willis coming out of the tunnel" was told to me like a historic moment. The way the story goes is that Willis overcame an injury to inspire the team by returning for Game 7. He came out later than the team and the Garden erupted when they saw him. The Knicks would smash the Lakers 113-99 in route to a championship. 

NBC News - Reed had injured a thigh muscle in Game 5 of the series between the Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers, tumbling to the court in pain. He sat out Game 6 as counterpart Wilt Chamberlain had 45 points and 27 rebounds in a Lakers romp that forced a deciding game at Madison Square Garden.

Reed’s status was unknown even to his Knicks teammates as he continued getting treatment until shortly before Game 7. Both teams were warming up when Reed came out of the tunnel, fans rising and roaring when they saw him emerge from the tunnel leading to the locker room.

“And here comes Willis and the crowd is going wild,” radio announcer Marv Albert said.

The Lakers stopped to watch Reed.

Somewhere along the way, it was made out to seem that Willis Reed had a monstrous game, or would go on to win MVP, or the fact that he actually played the entire game. 


Willis Reed's biggest impact in the game came in the first minutes and that's it. He did uplift the fans, the team, and the crowd, however he hit his first two shots (finished the game 2-5) for four points and that was all his scoring for the night. He played just 27 minutes. It was in fact Walt Clyde Frazier's 36 points and 19 assists that was the real reason the Knicks won the game. He was remarkable. 

So while Willis Reed has been believed to be the star of the 1970 NBA Finals Game 7, it was Walt Clyde Frazier who dominated the deciding game. Reed was still selected NBA Finals MVP, but if you look closer at the stats- yes his 23 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists was impressive (reminder he only played in 6 games), some could say Frazier's 17.6 ppg, 7.7 rebounds per game, and 10.4 assists per game including a dominant game 7 should have led to him being named MVP. 

Makes you think … how did Reed have such an impact on people that they marvel at his coming out of the tunnel instead of Frazier's actual stats in Game 7 all these years later? It sure has me puzzled. 

That's Volume 1 in what will be an ongoing series of "well actually", debunking sports folk lore with actual facts. Hope you enjoy.