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Frank Deford
May 18, 1970
On the Knicks this year the parts fitted together perfectly, and the smooth blend brought New York its first championship
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May 18, 1970

In For Two Plus The Title

On the Knicks this year the parts fitted together perfectly, and the smooth blend brought New York its first championship

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Bill Bradley, Russell's rival in college and now his rival for the same starting spot, sat across from him, so intense that chills swept over his body. "On every sports team there are conflicts," he was to say afterward. "Pro teams are made of conflicts. It is their nature; we are all competing. Why we succeed and why it is such a pleasure to be here is because, on the Knicks, our conflicts never turn to bitterness."

Then all the Knicks except Reed rushed out onto the floor to warm up. Reed stayed behind so that he could have his injections of carbocaine, a painkiller, and cortisone at the last possible instant. Across the way West had already been shot up, a needle in each hand. He had injured his left hand in the third game, his shooting hand in the first half of the fifth game, about the time Reed went down. "I don't even like to think about it," Coach Joe Mullaney said. "A shooter getting needles in his shooting hand."

Reed took his injections in the thigh moments before the tip-off. The crowd was growing apprehensive over his absence. "When Willis comes out they're going to pull the roof down," Dave Stallworth said, warming up. Reed came out at 7:34, one official minute to spare, walking purposefully, without a limp. As he moved down the entranceway the fans on the other side of the court saw him first and began to cheer and then to rise, and after that the whole place stood, generating waves of applause. His teammates paused to watch Reed sink his first practice shot. The Garden erupted. And then there was a very special reaction. All the people in Madison Square Garden, as if on cue, began to smile.

A smile is the most personal thing you can offer in New York; it is rarely tendered unless money or a luncheon invitation is included in the bargain. Now, however, for this one moment, all these people could not help but smile, in unison, at the huge brave man before them who had come back to give them a title.

The national anthem followed. In the upper reaches of the Garden some of the young people would not rise, and other spectators about them began, softly, tentatively, to sing The Star-Spangled Banner. On the court Bradley, the discreet Rhodes scholar, felt the chills again. He thought: "I cannot imagine anyplace else on earth that I would rather be at this moment than right here, about to play in the final game of the championship of the world."

Not so long ago, when the White House was not yet concerned with whether or not the President's press conferences might conflict with NBA playoffs, pro basketball was a limited domain. Friday night, movie stars and giants of industry sat in the Garden batting beach balls around during timeouts and screaming "DEE-fense." (Remember, as a child, when it was di-FENSE?) In Los Angeles the freeways had been at rush-hour peak since 3:45 Pacific time—thousands of businesses had shut so that employees could get home by 4:35 to see the game. They were wise to hurry; it was all going to happen very fast.

On the Knicks' first play from scrimmage Reed jumps from the top of the key and the shot goes in. "He ain't hurt," Walt Frazier says to himself, behind his muttonchop grin. Soon, though, Reed is hobbling like Chester chasing vainly after Marshall Dillon. Willis is to hit his second (and last) shot in another minute, but before that what he does at the other end of the court is even more significant. Wilt takes the ball at his spot to the left of the lane. He moves left. If he keeps going that way, can Reed stay with him? Can he shuffle fast enough or can he possibly cross over with that dragging, painful right leg? Willis stays with Wilt for a step. It is enough. Wilt goes no farther. He stops, fakes and throws the ball out. Thereafter, he goes almost exclusively sideways to the right, not driving in, just flipping his finger-rolls. Before Reed goes out with 3:05 left in the half, Wilt gets the ball 17 times in the pivot. He makes only two baskets in nine tries against the disabled Reed.

It is 61-37 when Reed departs, and for most of the way the Lakers, like the New Haven Railroad, are running about 12 minutes behind time. The Knicks have 69 at the half; the Lakers reach that in three quarters. (It was 113-99 at the end.) Frazier, with 23 points in the first half—36 for the game—is the star. He has been in something of an eclipse on offense lately but, shooting and making steals, it is not long before he knows he is "playing a dynamite game." But all the starters are playing so well that the bench is hardly needed. Dick Barnett, a former Laker, is on, and so is Bradley, who suggested the 1-3-1 offense the team has depended on since its recovery midway through the fifth game.

DeBusschere (see cover), as always in the series, is the best all-purpose player on the floor. Leaving aside the emotional consideration due Reed, DeBusschere is the top overall performer, for he has done everything possible you could ask of a player. (It was he, peering over Chamberlain's shoulder, who guarded Wilt when the game and the series turned in the fifth game.) Tonight, in the last one, he goes outside and bombs fearlessly at first, then moves underneath to work more on the boards. On defense he removes gallant old Elgin Baylor as a factor in his eighth vain try in the finals. Bill Bridges of the Atlanta Hawks, in to see the last game, observes: "There's not one other guy in this league who gives the 100% DeBusschere does, every night, every game of the season at both ends of the court."

It is DeBusschere now, after the game, who, on a pretext, asks Reed to rise, and then grabs the captain in a firm embrace and kisses him for all he is worth.

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