The Knicks face a must-win Game 5 tonight in Miami. Forty-two years ago this week, they hosted the Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. In that game, Walt “Clyde” Frazier scored 36 points with 19 assists. He called it the greatest game in his career.
In his book “The Game Within the Game,” Frazier wrote about the injured Knicks’ captain Willis Reed limping onto the court minutes before the tip-off: “The scene is indelibly etched in my mind, because if that did not happen, I know we would not have won the game.”
I once asked Frazier about that. Was Reed’s presence really that much of an inspiration?
“Yeah, it was,” he said. “It gave us so much confidence. Before the game, everyone was talking to Willis, wanting to know if he could play. I remember [Bill] Bradley saying, ‘Willis, just half of you would be more than anything anybody else could give us at that position. Try to play, man.’
“A lot of people think it was premeditated,” said Frazier, “that we waited until that moment. But when we left the locker room, we had no idea he would play.”
Reed scored the first two baskets, his only points in the game, but it was enough to inspire his teammates and the Madison Square Garden crowd.
“That’s the other thing,” Frazier said. “The fans became so catalytic. Once they started cheering, I saw [the Lakers’] West, Baylor and Chamberlain mesmerized. They stopped doing what they were doing and were standing there staring at Willis. At that point, I said to myself, ‘We got these guys.’ I felt so confident once I saw that.”