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While the New York Knicks haven’t been the most successful NBA franchise in recent memory, one positive has remained constant. The Big Apple-based club always takes the court in solid uniforms. Whether you prefer the white, blue, or black version, there’s something understated and classic about the Knicks’ gameday outfits.

During the 2023 NBA Playoffs, though, sharp-eyed observers may have noticed something different. On each player’s left shoulder, there’s a black band with a small number 19.

What’s behind that change? A look back at Knicks history will explain.

The Knicks have 19 on their jerseys to honor the late Willis Reed

Immanuel Quickley drives to the basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers. A No. 19 band, honoring Willis Reed, can be seen on his shoulder.
The New York Knicks have number 19 on their jerseys in honor of Willis Reed. | Jason Miller/Getty Images

As the famous song says, if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. During his time on the NBA hardwood, Willis Reed did just that.

After cutting his collegiate teeth at Grambling State, the center joined the Knicks in the 1964 draft. Reed promptly made an impact, averaging 19.5 points and 14.7 rebounds per outing en route to a Rookie of the Year crown. That, however, was only the beginning.

While Reed shone on both ends of the floor, he’s most widely remembered for his 1969-70 campaign. The Knicks won 60 games that year, and their star center stepped up when the chips were down. After missing Game 6 of the NBA Finals with a leg injury, Reed stepped onto the Madison Square Garden floor to start Game 7. He didn’t contribute much to the box score — the big man scored four points and pulled down two rebounds — but his presence was a deciding factor. He lifted both the crowd and his teammates, and the Knicks claimed the NBA title. Reed also won NBA MVP and NBA Finals MVP, capping off a fantastic season.

During the 1972-73 season, the Louisiana native helped bring another championship to NYC. After that, though, his impact was limited. He played 19 games the following year and, hampered by injuries, hung up his sneakers. Reed would later return to the Big Apple to briefly coach the Knicks before spending some time working for other teams.

Given that body of work — Reed also earned a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame and was a member of both the NBA 50th Anniversary Team and the NBA 75th Anniversary Team — his death was obviously impactful. The big man died on March 21, 2023, prompting tributes to pour in.

Walt Frazier, who played alongside the center before becoming the Knicks’ beloved color commentator, offered one of the best on the air.

Unsurprisingly, the organization also wanted to honor Reed. The Knicks added his number 19, which also hangs from the Madison Square Garden rafters, to a black band on each player’s left shoulder.

And while it’s unlikely that the Larry O’Brien Trophy will be heading back to New York this year, it’s certainly fitting to see a tribute to Willis Reed during the NBA postseason. That, after all, is where legends are made.


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