HBCU Athlete Profile: Willis Reed, Grambling State University

There is only one man in NBA history that attended an HBCU that went on to win league MVP, Finals MVP and/or Finals MVP. His name is Willis Reed and he is a center who went on to become a Hall of Fame basketball player in the NBA. Before his NBA career, he played his college basketball at Grambling State University an HBCU in Louisiana where he was also born and raised.

In his four years at Grambling State, Willis scored 2,280 career points concluding his college career averaging 26.6 points and 21.3 rebounds in his senior season.

Willis led Grambling State to three Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) championships and a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes (NAIA) championship in 1961. In addition, he was named to two NAIA All-Tournament First Teams, three NAIA tournament teams total, and two NAIA All-American teams

In 1970, Willis Reed was inducted into the NAIA Basketball Hall of Fame and in 2006 was inducted into the inaugural College Basketball Hall of Fame class. Reed was one of only two players to be inducted into the inaugural College Basketball Hall of Fame class that attended an HBCU and played in the NBA.

Willis Reed was drafted with the eighth overall pick in the 1964 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks where he would play all 10 of his NBA seasons. He went on to become an NBA All-Star in each of his first seven seasons putting up averages of 20.1 points and 13.8 rebounds.

In the 1969-1970 season, Willis Reed became the first player to ever win NBA All-Star MVP, league MVP, and Finals MVP all in the same season (Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and LeBron James have since accomplished this feat).

Willis led the Knicks to their first-ever NBA Championship after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1970 NBA Finals in seven games. The Lakers team featured future Hall of Famers and all-time greats Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, and Elgin Baylor. He was named NBA Finals MVP after averaging 23.0 points and 10.5 rebounds in the series.

After losing in the 1972 NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, Willis Reed led the Knicks back to the next year’s NBA Finals winning the series in five games over the Lakers. Reed was once again named Finals MVP averaging 16.4 points and 9.2 rebounds in the series. This also made him the first player to ever win multiple NBA Finals MVP awards (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard have since accomplished this feat).

Injuries were, unfortunately, the downfall of Willis Reed’s NBA career as although he only missed 18 regular-season games in his first seven seasons, he went on to miss a total of 147 regular-season games in his final three NBA seasons including two seasons playing less than 20 games.

In his 10-year career, Willis Reed won two NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVPs, an NBA MVP, an All-Star MVP, appeared in seven NBA All-Star games, and was named to five All-NBA teams. He holds regular-season career averages of 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds while averaging 17.4 points and 10.3 rebounds for his career in the playoffs.

In 1976, Reed became the first player to have his jersey retired by the New York Knicks just two years after he retired from the NBA. In 1982, he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame making him the first HBCU alum to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Willis was also named one of the Top 50 Greatest Players by the NBA in the NBA’s 50th anniversary season in 1997. He is one of only three HBCU alum to be named one of the NBA’s top 50 Greatest Players.


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