Two black college and professional sports superstars from another era passed over the past weeks, Grambling and NBA basketball star Willis Reed and Prairie View A&M and NFL standout Otis Taylor. Both were 80.
Grambling State and NBA New York Knicks legend Willis Reed passed last Tuesday. He was 80 years old.
Reed made his name and fortune as a rugged 6-10 left- handed center with patented jump and hook shots. He is remembered for some of the most iconic moments in NBA and Knicks history. None however more than his emergence from the locker room after a thigh injury was expected to sideline him for the seventh and deciding game of the 1970 NBA finals vs. the Los Angeles Lakers.
He was facing the Lakers with the likes of all-time NBA greats Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. Reed, the Knicks’ captain, limped out of the locker room, hobbled onto the court and and scored the first four points of the game. He finished with just six points and three rebounds but his inspiring entrance and play led the Knicks to their first-ever NBA championship in a 113-99 wire-to-wire win.
Reed was that season’s NBA Most Valuable Player, NBA All-Star Game MVP and the MVP of the NBA Finals. He was the first player in NBA history to sweep the three awards. Those awards helped secure his legendary status. He was also on the team but a less integral part of the Knicks second NBA crown in the 1972-73 season.
The Knicks selected Reed with the first pick in the second round, eighth overall, of the 1964 NBA Draft out of Grambling. Reed ranked seventh in the NBA in scoring (19.5 points per game) in his rookie year and fifth in rebounding at 14.7 per game. He also began his string of seven straight All-Star appearances. As it stands, Reed, who spent his entire playing career with the Knicks (1964-74) still ranks in the Kicks’ top ten rankings in rebounds (8,414), points (12,183), and games played (650).
In 1982, Reed was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was voted one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History and to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team in 2021. The NBA decided last season to named the Southwest Division trophy the Willis Reed Trophy.
After retiring as a player, Reed served as assistant and head coach with several teams for nearly a decade. He was then promoted to general manager and vice president of basketball operations (1989–1996) for the New Jersey Nets. As senior vice president of basketball operations, he helped to lead them to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003.
Before his NBA career, Reed, a Lincoln Parrish, La. native, attended and starred at Grambling. He played for legendary Grambling head coach Fred Hobdy and scored 2,280 points in his four-year career. Reed averaged 26.6 points and 21.3 rebounds in his senior campaign. He led the Tigers to the 1961 NAIA national championship defeating Georgetown (Ky). 95-75 in the title game. He also led Grambling to three Southwestern Athletic Conference championships.
One of the most dynamic pass catchers in NFL history, former Prairie View A&M and Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Otis Taylor, passed away on March 9 at the age of 80.
Taylor was a wide receiver for the Chiefs from 1965 to 1975. He rewrote the franchise’s record books with marks that stood for several more decades.
He was drafted by Kansas City in the fourth round (29th overall) of the 1965 AFL Draft. He was also selected in the 15th round of the 1965 NFL Draft by Philadelphia. He chose to play for the Chiefs for his entire career.
Taylor was a 6-3, 215-pound standout wide receiver
with 4.5 second (40 yard dash) speed for the Prairie View A&M Panthers. He won back-to-back Black College national championships at Prairie View under legendary head coach Billy Nicks in 1963 and 1964 and remains the school’s career leader with 2,220 receiving yards. He was on the 1963 PV team that played for the NAIA national championship. His No. 17 jersey was the first in Panther’s history to be retired.
Taylor, a Houston native, became famous for what is referred to as a “baby-sitting” incident related to his draft into pro football. Taylor “escaped through a back door of a hotel” with legendary Chiefs’ African-American scout Lloyd Wells from NFL scouts of the Dallas Cowboys, and was signed by KC.
Taylor caught five touchdown passes during his rookie year, and followed that up in 1966 by leading the AFL at 22.4 yards per catch. He finished second in receiving yards (1,297). He was voted first-team All-AFL and to the 1966 AFL All-Star team.
Taylor led the AFL in receiving touchdowns in 1967 with 11 and led the NFL in receiving yards in 1971 with 1,110. He made the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl twice during his 11-year career and in 1971 was a consensus All-Pro. Taylor is on the Chiefs’ all-time list in receptions (6th, 410), receiving yards (3rd, 7,306), receiving touchdowns (3rd, 57), and 100-yard games (20).
Taylor’s most memorable highlight came in the fourth and final AFL-NFL World Championship Game (later named the Super Bowl) on January 11, 1970. Taylor caught a quick pass from QB Len Dawson, escaped a tackle and ran down the sidelines for a 46-yard touchdown in the Chiefs’ 23–7 upset over the NFL champion Minnesota Vikings.