New Yorkers have shown through much of this century that they can be the nastiest, meanest sports fans in America.
But they can be the very best too--good enough to lift a team to a championship.
And that's just what happened in Madison Square Garden 29 years ago tonight, when Knick center Willis Reed, in uniform, limped onto the court for pregame warmups. It was 7:34 p.m., moments before the Knicks' seventh and deciding game against the Lakers for the NBA title.
Since Reed, who had an injured hip, wasn't even supposed to dress for the game, the moment was electrifying, one New Yorkers still talk about.
The sight of Reed in uniform sent the 19,500 fans into a roaring, standing ovation that lasted several minutes.
Later, after Reed's presence had inspired the Knicks to a 113-99 victory, teammate Bill Bradley credited the crowd.
"Those weren't 19,500 spectators, they were 19,500 participants," he said. "When they pulled down the roof for Willis, it lifted us sky high."
Reed played 27 minutes and had four points and three rebounds. But he leaned on and pushed around the Lakers' Wilt Chamberlain often enough to tilt the scales. Chamberlain had scored 45 points and pulled down 27 rebounds in Game 6 (Reed didn't play), but on this night was held to 21 points, though he did get 24 rebounds.
New York's most productive weapon was guard Walt Frazier, who had 36 points, 19 assists and five steals.
Also on this date: In 1973, the Pittsburgh Pirates' Willie Stargell hit a ball out of Dodger Stadium for the second time, a 480-foot shot that bounced off the right-field pavilion roof and into the parking lot. Stargell first did it in 1969. No one else would do it until Mike Piazza, in 1997. . . . In 1954, Parry O'Brien, three days after Roger Bannister had broken the four-minute mile, became the first man to break 60 feet in the shotput with a 60-5 1/4 heave. . . . In 1960, Jerry Barber, the oldest (44) and smallest (135 pounds) player in the field, shot a record 69-66-66-67--268 to win Las Vegas' Tournament of Champions by four strokes. . . . In 1968, Catfish Hunter of the Oakland A's beat the Minnesota Twins, 4-0, with the American League's first perfect game in 46 years.