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After coming through the tunnel which was named after him and watching his jersey be revealed in the rafters, Reed was just excited to watch the rest of the men's basketball game between Grambling and Southern. Both the men's and women's teams pulled off upset wins against Southern, both previously undefeated in the SWAC, to give Reed even more to celebrate.
"This is something that I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life," Reed said. "People would ask me, 'Where would you like to go to a game at?' Let's go to Grambling to see them play football, let's go see them play basketball. I feel like I'm at home here."
— Ethan Sands (@EjElite1) January 16, 2022
Reed, 79, played four seasons at Grambling from 1960-64, leading the Tigers to SWAC championships in 1963 and 1964. The 6-foot-10, 240 pound Reed averaged 26.6 points and 21.3 rebounds as a senior and 18.7 points and 15.2 rebounds for his career.
Reed's journey to Grambling was one that he still relishes. He was born in Dubach, Louisiana, and grew up on a farm in Bernice. He played at West Side High School in Lillie.
“For me to be here, to have been one of the top 50 players in the first 50 years of the NBA or be in the Hall of Fame, basketball or not, those are dreams that you dream about," Reed said during an interview on "Louisiana Legends" in 1998. "But the real goal when Willis Reed was playing basketball in high school and wanted to go to Grambling was to become educated enough to go out and have a job.”
Reed played under Linden Stone throughout his high school career, and how the coach portrayed himself made Reed want to go to college. Reed met Stone his freshman year after Reed had grown three inches to 6-foot-5 the summer after eighth grade.
Reed remembers Stone wearing a suit and tie while his father had to sweat through his clothes for pay as a common laborer.
"What did I see out of basketball? I saw a chance, that in basketball, I had a chance to get an education," Reed said. "If I worked hard enough, I could get a scholarship and had a chance to go to school and become a teacher and a coach, that what I wanted to be, I wanted to be like Coach Stone. Grambling gave me that opportunity."
Reed played football and his senior year and West Side won the state championship. The legendary Eddie G. Robinson was the football coach at Grambling and asked Reed if he was going to come play for him.
"I'm not going to play football, because I'm going to play basketball," Reed replied.
It was a good choice. He was the first player to have his jersey retired by the New York Knicks in 1976 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1981. And now he's the first player to have his number hung in the rafters at Grambling.
This article originally appeared on Monroe News-Star: 'I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life': Grambling honors Willis Reed