Unsung Knick History – The Night Willis Fought the Entire Laker Bench…and Won!
WHAT YOU SEE IS WILLIS REED "THE CAPTAIN" KNOCKING RUDY LaRUSSO THE FUCH OUT!
(REPOSTED January 11th, 2011 by Brian Cronin)
Willis Reed was in his third season as a Knick when the 1966-67 season kicked off in October 1966 with a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on the road. The Knicks’ home opener was on Tuesday, October 18, 1966 against the Los Angeles Lakers, who were the defending Western Conference Champions (falling to the Boston Celtics in a hard-fought seven-game NBA Finals earlier in 1966) and Reed was the starting power forward. Drafted in the second round of the 1964 NBA Draft as a center, Reed ended up splitting time at center and power forward along with the Knicks’ first round draft pick, Jim “Bad News” Barnes (I discussed Barnes’ Knick career in a previous Unsung Knicks History piece here), as the pair were used similarly to how Patrick Ewing and Bill Cartwright were deployed decades later. Early in the 1965-66 season, Barnes was packaged in a deal for star center Walt Bellamy, who became the Knicks primary center with Reed as the primary power forward. At the start of the 1966-67 season, Reed and Bellamy were now beginning their first full season playing together.
During the game against the Lakers at Madison Square Garden, Reed was matched up against veteran forward/center Rudy LaRusso, in his eighth season out of Dartmouth. Throughout the game, Reed took exception to what he felt were an inordinate amount of elbows thrown his way by LaRusso as the pair jockeyed for position in the low blocks. LaRusso, I am sure, felt that Reed was giving just as good as he was getting. Reed complained to the referees, who he later noted looked at him as though he was nuts, so Reed determined that if they were not going to take care of things, he would.
During the third quarter, a Knick was shooting two foul shots. After the second shot went up, naturally, LaRusso and Reed began jockeying for position and Reed felt that LaRusso hit him with one elbow too many, so after LaRusso turned to head up court, Reed tangled up with him a bit. LaRusso responded by throwing a haymaker at Reed. The problem for Reed was that this was taking place directly in front of the Lakers’ bench, so quickly a bunch of Lakers race on to the court.
When Reed turned to respond to LaRusso’s missed haymaker, Laker center Darren Imhoff (a former Knick #1 draft pick that I also featured in the same Unsung Knick History piece I did on Barnes that you can read here) grabbed Reed from behind, ostensibly to break up the fight. Well, LaRusso took this opportunity to tag Reed with a punch. This enraged Reed. He slugged Imhoff, dropping the big man to the ground. He then chased LaRusso to the Lakers bench and got in two mighty shots in LaRusso’s face. At this point, Laker rookie forward John Block ran up, also ostensibly to play peacemaker. Well, Reed responded with a left hook that broke Block’s nose. Imhoff came up again and Reed punched him in the eye, sending a bleeding Imhoff into a bunch of Lakers. By this time, Reed’s Knick teammates had arrived, as well, and it was a full-fledged brawl (Knick guard Em Bryant, in particular, was jumping all over Lakers). Reed caught LaRusso one more time, knocking him to the ground. Reed was also throwing any other Laker who came at him to the ground, including Laker center Hank Finkel.
Both Reed and LaRusso were ejected, and were each fined $50. Head of the NBA referees Dolph Schayes (who was also featured in a recent Unsung Knick History piece here) debated suspending Reed, but luckily for Reed, the Knicks had footage of the encounter and it was clear that LaRusso had started it, so Reed was cleared.
Reed later told his teammates that they should never try to restrain him in a fight, and his reasoning would explain why he became so enraged when Imhoff restrained him while LaRusso took a shot at him (well, a reason beyond the straightforward “it is not cool to be restrained by a guy while his teammates hits you”) and that was that he was restrained once during a fight when he was in college and someone in the crowd took the chance to throw a bottle at him. So Reed warned his teammates that if they ever tried to restrain him, well, they could expect a little of what he gave to the Lakers. ( AND YOU THINK JR SMITH IS A BAD ASS?) SO MUCH FOR TEAM CHEMISTRY WITH AN UNDERSTANDING.. TMAN????
In 1977, Reed reflected on the event to Sports Illustrated’s John Papanek, noting, “They said I should be banned. All I got was an ejection and a small fine, nothing like what they give out now. You know what would happen if someone did all that today?” Papanek posited, “Would a full $10,000 be a good guess?” Well, if that’s what they figured would happen if Reed’s fight had taken place in 1977, can you imagine if it took place in 2011?! It’s funny that when you think of the Knicks and brawls, it is the 1990s Knicks (or the Knicks/Nuggets brawl from a few years back) that comes to mind, but the Knicks were doing this stuff decades earlier!
In his biography, Phil Jackson tells the story of Red Holzman coming out to North Dakota for Jackson (a second round draft pick of the Knicks in 1967) to sign his rookie contract. After signing, Holzman left him with a game film to watch. Jackson viewed it with his friends. The game? None other than the Reed fight game. Jackson recalled watching it with his friends many times, amazed that this would be the guy Jackson would soon have to be guarding in practice.
Of course, after the 1967-68 season, Walt Bellamy was traded in a deal for Dave DeBusschere and Reed was now the Knicks’ official man in the middle, where he would remain for many years, including two NBA championships.
I wonder what he would have done if someone put his hand around his throat?
Thanks to Bill Gutman, John Papanek, Willis Reed, Knick point guard at the time Howie Komives and Phil Jackson for all of their insights and quotes on the 1966 brawl.
REPOSTED January 11th, 2011 by Brian Cronin
I was sitting behind the basket for the Willis vs. Lakers fight. I looked down to keep score, and then looked up and Willis was going wild. First he hit Rudy LaRusso; then he broke rookie John Block's nose. Walt Bellamy tried to hold Willis back, and Willis broke out, and Bellamy fell to the ground. The whole team was involved, including Em Bryant. and Jerry West, who suffered another broken nose and was bleeding profusely along with Block and LaRusso. Reed did not have as much as a scratch on him as he was ejected from the game.
September 5, 1968
Linsanity alert.----You asked for it!
I was thinking about Rudy LaRusso and it came to me, so I double checked, and sure enough it was true LaRusso was a bit LinSane for his time.
Why?How many Jewish Kids from BrooklLIN (Brooklyn) become Stars in the Ivy League, lead their team, Dartmouth, to two Ivy champioships, then go on to play for the Lakers and San Fran (now Golden State) scoring double figures for over a decade.LaRusso was from James Madison in Brooklyn.A tough guy in a much tougher NBA he was the enforcer for Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, ejected 72 times, a very tough guy, but then every team had a guy that needed to fight.
I guess timing is everything.This Rudy wasn't in NY and there was no cable.Jeremy has a lot to be thankful for.
PS. I wish JR and us well.Personally, I think Balkman's departure hurt a close knit team and threw them off their game.
That's the NBA (Nasty Business Allaround).Hopefully Balk will latch on somewhere he can play, because he can play.
And hopefully the team spiritual leader JJ will lift and bind the team to greater heights.We'll see Sunday.It will be a real test against a real team.Now that NO has provided a blueprint to defend Lin the ball is going to have to move and guys are gonna have to hit shots to open things up.Perfect scenario for Melo and JR, both shooters.Let's see what they got.LGK
Melo and Amare will no longer be doubled while JR is on the court.
Lin should have a field day with dimes! We stay healthy and no team stops us. I'm glad we lost last night. It brings the promise of reality and debunks the Cinderella story. LGK
How much respect does Willis Reed Get today? He is a Legend. All that is good! Team player even though he told his team he would knock them the fuck out if they tried to restrain him? ( So much for total team chemistry with limitations)
However, if REED reacted as above in 2012, he would be BANNED FROM THE LEAGUE FOR LIFE! TMAN'S number ONE does not Shyte Angel feathers despite his TWO rings!
While degrading JR SMITH, one should get a reality check. I love TMAN, but either he has selective memories or just pure indifference to facts and human nature!
Get used to JR Smith.. that stroke of the Pen to him becoming a Knick has just lifted the first banner in the Garden since 1973!
Great points Peaceman, and thanks for this important piece. A review of history is always needed when assessing current events in the ESPN world. EVERY sport was much more violent years ago than they are today, and yrt we have managed to create the opposite illusion.
Besides all that... Willis
@Peaceman First, Imhoff's first name is Daryll not Darren.I'm impressed that you took the time to do the reseach.Luckily, my memory of the event will do.Reed was given a token because both his arms were restrained from behind.He reacted as a man would and hit everyone in an enemy uniform who attacked him.By the way Jerry West was never involved in any NBA fight let alone that one.I may be wrong but I'm not even sure he ever got a technical.My friends and I admired him for his manly restraint.That's a bit different than today.I'm not sure about Clyde's techs, they are few and far between.I'm not going to harp on JR anymore.He's here and that's that.We'll see.I'll close with reminding you of the day gone by when a certain Knick got clocked from behind by a certain Nugget who is now a Knick.Instead of staying and facing Mardy Collins a backpedaling record was set running away from an enraged Collins.If you know who backpedaled that fast in transition D I would be more impressed.You are right,what happens off the court should not count on the court, except when it affects the team.What Reed did on the court he does not have to apologize for.I hope for everyone's sake we can say the same thing for all of us, fans and players, on and off the court for the rest of our days.Lets Go Us.
One Love Tman! We along with others have been together way back when Chaney was coach, blogging at Isola's.
Finally we have something to truly cheer about. We may go all the way once we have our full team on the floor!
Last night TWC brought back MSG. Hear that PUP?