NY Knicks: Who was the better center? Patrick Ewing or Willis Reed?

Patrick Ewing, Knicks. (Photo by MARK D. PHILLIPS/AFP via Getty Images)
Patrick Ewing, Knicks. (Photo by MARK D. PHILLIPS/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Willis Reed Wilt Chamberlain, Knicks. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

Here’s the thing about Patrick Ewing; despite having presided over the longest winning stretch in Knicks history, he doesn’t really have one defining moment.

He’s had many memorable ones for sure.  Winning the NCAA title at Georgetown, his dunk on Alonzo Mourning, his 51 points against the Boston Celtics, starting at center for the dream team, his game-winning putback in game 7 of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals. That last one’s probably it. Ewing finished that game with 24 points, 22 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 blocks to beat the Pacers and finally break out of the East.

Still, there isn’t really one moment we have etched in our minds when we think of Patrick Ewing.  It’s more the body of work and maybe that’s a good thing, but it will make it more difficult to keep his legend in the minds of Knicks fans as we get further removed from his time on the court.

Willis Reed has two defining moments, and they both are representative of the same thing…

The first is his legendary fight, in which Willis Reed answers the age-old question “how many 4th graders could you realistically take before you are inevitably overpowered?” except in Willis’s case the 4th graders are grown men who all play for the Los Angeles Lakers.

It started as just a push and a shove going for a rebound, but before you know it Willis Reed had squared up with one, two, no three Lakers. The teams rush in to help, but rather than be intimidated by the other 15 or so grown men filing in to oppose him, Reed instead figures he’d be better off fighting every single one of them.

I urge you to watch the footage of this fight. Reed is throwing bodies off him like he’s the incredible hulk. Teammates and opposing players alike are half trying to get ahold of him and half just watching in awe as he wades through the Lakers like a ball-pit.

It’s maybe the biggest fight the NBA ever had that they can now look back and smile on  Even the prim and proper league executives can’t help but be impressed by the sheer gall of Reed signing off on a 15 on 1 bench brawl. Strong stuff Willis.

In game 6, Reed had torn the muscle on the underside of his thigh.  His rectus femoris.  The reigning league MVP, the team captain, the anchor of the team, the man tasked with guarding Wilt Chamberlain. The decision on whether or not Reed would be available to play in game 7 was left right until the very last moment.  A decision that seemed to hold New York’s championship hopes in the balance.

The teams take the court for warmups, all shooting around in their wool jackets. No Willis. Where was he?

"“I didn’t want to have to look at myself in the mirror 20 years later and say I wished I had tried to play” – Willis Reed"

Somewhere in that locker room, Willis must’ve realized that he held the fate of his team in his hands. In pain, hobbled, and facing elimination, he thought to give everything he had and more to this cause simply because he could.  Because he was the captain, the leader, and because his people needed him.

Halfway through shootaround and we start to hear a murmur in Madison Square Garden.  Then, limping through the tunnel propped up by painkillers, adrenaline, and sheer force of will, was Willis.

The crowd loses its mind, the announcers pee themselves, Willis starts shooting around with the rest of the guys.  He drags that bum leg around for 28 minutes that night. Not limps, not hobbles, drags. It wasn’t pretty, but it was enough for New York to win the game and the title.

These moments illustrate the kind of man Reed was on the floor…

It’s so frustrating when a player’s intangibles are such a vital part of his game.  How can we prove to future generations these unquantifiable aspects of basketball when they can’t be accounted for with numbers or video?  Things like effort, grit, heart, courage, and hunger?

These moments show us how Reed thought about his place within the game of basketball.  That he was willing to fight not one man to save his pride, but a whole team to save his guys.  That when his city really needed him, taking out his leg wasn’t enough to keep him out.

That’s grit.  That’s Willis Reed.

Winner:  Willis Reed