NEW YORK — In a different era of basketball — far away from the carefully-edited offseason workouts on Instagram — members of the New York Knicks spent their summers at the playground.
And that included The Captain.
Willis Reed, the Knicks legend who died Tuesday at 80, was a frequenter of Rucker Park, the famed streetball court in Harlem. Reed won a pair of Rucker Pro League titles during his summers with the Knicks, and involved himself in the community beyond basketball.
Bob McCullough, who was Reed’s teammate at Rucker Park, remembered a speech the center provided to youth players at a Harlem school who were part of the Each One, Teach One program.
Reed gave a compelling anecdote about the importance of a college education — “this was 40 years ago and I remember it like yesterday,” McCullough said — and was offered $50 for his appearance.
“He said, ‘Keep the money. Put it back in the program,’ ” McCullough recalled to the New York Daily News. “And also, I want to give 50 scholarships to your youngsters to come to my basketball camp.”
The gesture was the first memory McCullough brought up when asked about Reed’s passing. It clearly left a mark.
On the court at Rucker Park, Reed’s team, which included McCullough and several Knicks — Freddie Crawford, Howie Komives, Nate Bowman and Em Bryant — were unstoppable.
Except for one game.
The opponent included streetball sensation Pablo Robertson and was sponsored by a local bar, “Sweet and Sour.”
Reed’s squad was overwhelmed.
“These guys couldn’t miss,” McCullough said. “They wanted to kill us. We never knew what hit us. Shot after shot. Timeout. And then when we got back on the court, they started raining shots again.
“Game was over. And I got into Freddie Crawford’s Cadillac. We drove up the Harlem River Drive, going nowhere, just in a daze. In our basketball uniforms. We didn’t even change. In a daze. Never knew what hit us.”
Reed didn’t lose much in New York after that, whether in the Garden or Harlem.
Reed operated in both worlds while a member of the Knicks, giving himself to the community. It’s why McCullough hopes to speak about Reed’s contributions to Harlem when the Knicks honor the Captain at Monday’s Madison Square Garden game versus the Rockets.
“It was a loss,” McCullough said. “A terrible loss.”