Former Knicks center and Hall-of-Famer Willis Reed was in just his third NBA season when he was named captain of the 1966-67 Knicks. That season is not as famous as the championship-winning Knicks campaign of 1970, or Reed’s oft-extolled stroll through the Garden tunnel to take the jump ball in Game 7 of the Finals after suffering a torn thigh muscle in Game 5. But that season of ’66 features an infamous game against the Lakers that showed Reed was every bit the captain and the team, and they wouldn’t be taking any gruff from opponents anymore.
“When the Garden Was Eden” — based on OG New York sportswriter Harvey Araton’s incredible book of the same title — premiered last night as part of the ESPN “30 for 30” documentary series. In the documentary, director Michael Rapaport shared unearthed footage of the game in 1966 when Reed purportedly fought the majority of the Lakers bench. Here is that footage, and it’s pretty clear Reed does in fact engage in fisticuffs with nearly everyone.
The glimmerings of the ensuing fight first percolated to the surface when Reed took offense to a preponderance of elbows from the 6-7 Lakers forward, Rudy LaRusso. As Alan Hahn details in his book, 100 Things Knicks Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die, (by way of Ball Don’t Lie’s Dan Devine), “Rudy LaRusso was getting on his nerves,” and that ended up being a problem for most of the Lakers bench.
We’ll let Brian Conin detail the meat of the fight, which he did in this excellent 2011 Knicerblogger piece:
During the third quarter, a Knick was shooting two foul shots. After the second shot went up, naturally, LaRusso and Reed began jockeying for position and Reed felt that LaRusso hit him with one elbow too many, so after LaRusso turned to head up court, Reed tangled up with him a bit. LaRusso responded by throwing a haymaker at Reed. The problem for Reed was that this was taking place directly in front of the Lakers’ bench, so quickly a bunch of Lakers race on to the court.
When Reed turned to respond to LaRusso’s missed haymaker, Laker center Darren Imhoff…grabbed Reed from behind, ostensibly to break up the fight. Well, LaRusso took this opportunity to tag Reed with a punch. This enraged Reed. He slugged Imhoff, dropping the big man to the ground. He then chased LaRusso to the Lakers bench and got in two mighty shots in LaRusso’s face. At this point, Laker rookie forward John Block ran up, also ostensibly to play peacemaker. Well, Reed responded with a left hook that broke Block’s nose. Imhoff came up again and Reed punched him in the eye, sending a bleeding Imhoff into a bunch of Lakers. By this time, Reed’s Knick teammates had arrived, as well, and it was a full-fledged brawl (Knick guard Em Bryant, in particular, was jumping all over Lakers). Reed caught LaRusso one more time, knocking him to the ground. Reed was also throwing any other Laker who came at him to the ground, including Laker center Hank Finkel.
The video speaks for itself, and it’s clear Em Bryant is also knocking heads alongside Reed, though Araton tweeted a quote from Reed’s teammate that’s help embellish — just a tad — the folklore of Reed on that night:
Reed was obviously ejected, but was only fined $50. Plus, it’s clear LaRusso instigated the fracas by throwing the fist punch after he felt Reed tripped him. Many felt Reed should be banned — as Hahn culls from from a 1977 interview Reed gave with Sports Illustrated — but no one ever messed with those Knicks teams again.
What do you think?
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