NEW YORK -- Knicks fans might have thought everything was going to be OK when Willis Reed came out of the tunnel for Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.
Reed had something entirely different on his mind.
"It's a hell of a predicament to be in. You're going to try to play Wilt Chamberlain, who's the greatest offensive big man to ever play the game, only guy to average 50 points, only ever to score 100 points in a game ... and I've got to try to do it on one leg," Reed recalled Monday night. "This is not the way you want to be playing a championship game. But it worked out."
It sure did. Reed shook off a leg injury to make two jumpers to start the game, and the Knicks went out to beat the Los Angeles Lakers to win the title.
Reed made the walk onto the Madison Square Garden floor again Monday when the Knicks celebrated the 40th anniversary of their first championship team at halftime of their game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The players and members of the families of those who had died walked out on a red carpet -- Reed was last, of course -- in jackets with their numbers on the sleeves and posed for pictures in front of the NBA championship trophy the core of that team won twice.
"The memories abound and astound," Hall of Fame guard and current TV analyst Walt Frazier said in addressing the crowd.
Nine members of the team were back for a dinner Sunday night and the celebration Monday. It was one of the few get-togethers for a team that is fondly remembered in New York, even more so now since the Knicks haven't won another since 1973.
"Across the court, you had Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman wanting to be there because they wanted to see the games, and you had a few other people wanting to be there because they wanted to be seen being there," Bill Bradley said. "Then you knew that there was something going on here."
The Knicks thought they had a championship team after they were eliminated by the Boston Celtics in 1969, especially since they'd have a full season with forward Dave DeBusschere, acquired the season before. They seemed right early on, rolling to a 23-1 start that is the best ever for a team before its second loss.
But it didn't look good in the series against the powerful Lakers after Reed, the MVP of the league, went down with an injured hip and thigh early in Game 5. The Knicks rallied from a halftime deficit -- being 40 years later, there's a difference in memory of what it was. Reed said nearly 20 points, Bradley guessed about 10. It was actually 13 -- to win the game before dropping Game 6 without Reed.
His status was unknown before Game 7, though Reed said he knew he would try to play. Reserve Cazzie Russell, who was kneed in Game 6 and didn't come out with his teammates before the finale while getting treatment, remembers the roar of the Garden crowd when he came out, then a groan when the fans realized he wasn't Reed.
"He's not who we're looking for," Russell said. "We're looking for the Captain."
Reed eventually made it out, and the Knicks won big behind Frazier's 36 points and 19 assists. Bradley recalled the game as an "iconic moment in American sports and one of the one or two biggest moments in New York sports history."
Frazier recalled looking toward the other end of the court after Reed's entrance and seeing Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West "mesmerized by his presence."
"I say to myself, 'We got these guys,'" Frazier said. "I started to believe I could do anything and almost did."
Reed said he's often asked about that night by fans, and hopes he and his teammates will be able to talk about old memories again soon.
"I'm hoping all of us will still be around when we get to 50," he said.