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Marv Albert remembers Willis Reed as ‘heart and soul’ of the Knicks: ‘He was literally The Captain’

“Here comes Willis Reed.”

Marv Albert now says it was a throwaway line before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, but it became a signature sound byte of his Hall of Fame career — and the signature moment of the New York Knicks.

Albert made the call on the radio knowing prior Reed’s intention of playing that night. The Madison Square Garden crowd, however, was in the dark until The Captain ran through the tunnel.

“What I recall was the decibel level of the roar from the crowd in the building,” Albert said. “It was an explosion.”

The Knicks famously beat the Lakers that night for their first championship, at least partly due to Reed’s presence intimidating the opposition into jitters. Almost 53 years later, Reed died Tuesday at 80 and Albert, upon hearing the news, immediately thought of the fitting nickname.

“He was literally The Captain,” Albert said. “That’s my first thought. He’s the heart and soul of the team.”

“Willis was so respected,” Albert added. “Sometimes guys get appointed captain. Whatever the sport. And it can be a token thing, it can be when somebody actually takes the leadership. But they had such respect for him. And he was just perfect for it. He was very lowkey. A wonderful guy. Very good with the media, too. He was such a nice person.”

The sweetheart persona, echoed by so many who came in contact with Reed, didn’t necessarily translate on the court. He famously cleared out several Lakers in a brawl, breaking the nose of L.A. center John Block.

The trigger for Reed, according to Albert, was one of the Lakers trying to hold him back.

“As a kid one time that happened to him and someone punched him in the face,” Albert recalled. “So that was something that Willis was not going to let happen to him again. Somebody made the mistake of holding him back.”

It was a violent example of Reed’s inner fire, which helped carry the Knicks through high stakes battles in their glory years. Albert says Michael Jordan, the maniacally driven Michael Jordan, once identified Reed as the most competitive player he ever witnessed.

“When he came to the Knicks he was not particularly happy that he was the second-round draft pick and that pushed him,” Albert said. “A guy named Bad News Barnes, he was the first-round pick. I think that kind of fueled him. He had a great competitive spirit but that got him going even moreso.

“As I said, no one would start up with him. But I don’t think he had any enemies. Everybody had such great respect for what he did.”

That was echoed by Butch Beard, who dealt with Reed in a different role — when Reed was the GM of the Nets and hired Beard as the coach in 1994.

“He was a much better person than a basketball player. And he was a heckuva basketball player,” Beard said.