MIAMI — Julius Randle never got the chance to meet Knicks legend Willis Reed, but he is reminded every day of the impact The Captain had on the organization, the NBA and all of New York sports.

The 80-year-old Hall of Famer died Tuesday, nearly 50 years after fronting the Knicks to their most recent championship – and second in four seasons – in 1972-73.

“It’s somebody who has his number up there every day. You go to practice, you see his name, you go to the Garden, you see his name,” Randle said before Wednesday’s game against the Heat. “Just an icon in this game, a legend. He meant a lot to the game. So obviously it’s very unfortunate, but us as players who are actively playing and came after him are appreciative of everything he’s done for the game. And me specifically, what he’s done for our organization.

“It just goes to show you how strong the Knicks brand and culture is, how much the team means to the city. That was a big reason why I came here. I wanted to be a part of that, establishing our own history and culture here. We’re building towards something for sure.”

One day before Reed’s death, Randle netted a career-high 57 points in Monday’s home loss to the Timberwolves, which tied for the third-highest scoring output in one game in franchise history. 

Julius Randle and the Knicks are in the playoff hunt, finding inspiration in Willis Reed.
USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks entered back-to-back road games against the Heat and the Magic in the fifth playoff position in the Eastern Conference, 2.5 games ahead of the No. 6 Nets and three clear of No. 7 Miami and the 7-10 play-in tournament.

The 28-year-old Randle, who joined the Knicks as a free agent in 2019, acknowledged that postseason success ultimately is how players in various sports in New York are remembered.

The Knicks only have won one playoff series over the previous 22 seasons, including a first-round loss to the Hawks in 2021.


 Willis Reed #19 of the New York Knicks shoots a free throw against the Boston Celtics
Willis Reed, who left an indelible mark on the Knicks, died on Tuesday at the age of 80.
NBAE via Getty Images

“That’s where my mind goes,” Randle said. “When I first got here it was about establishing culture, stuff like that. In my mind, every day I wake up and go to sleep, how do I build championship habits? So eventually, hopefully, we get there one day.

“Watching [Derek] Jeter’s [ESPN documentary] this summer was very inspiring. I’m a Cowboys fan, so I don’t wanna talk much about the Giants [championships]. But the Yankees, all that stuff, is super inspiring. It’s what you aspire to do… A lot of things are out of our control, but for me, what I can control is my habits every day, how I lead, and who I am as a person. I just try to hopefully line that up with championship habits.”

Randle also admitted his time in New York has been “a journey,” including a return to his 2021 All-NBA form following a rough, step-back season and a playoff miss last year.

“When I signed on that line to come here I knew what I was signing up for — at least I thought I did. But it’s been a journey every day and I’m just grateful and appreciative for it,” Randle said. “When I came here, when I said I wanted to be a part of the Knicks, I said it was a place I wanted to be for the rest of my career, I wanted to make home.

“It’s crazy. I was pulling up to the Garden before [Monday’s] game…And I’m just like, this is actually starting to feel like home…I felt that sense of being comfortable – not comfortable in the sense of not having a chip or an edge. But I just felt a sense of being comfortable, just enjoying playing in front of New York, playing in front of the fans.”

After Randle made his 74th straight start this season Wednesday night, the Knicks will have eight regular-season games remaining before the playoffs begin.

 “I haven’t been on a championship team, so I can’t put expectations on anything,” Randle said. “I just try to do the right thing every day, whether it’s taking care of my body, sleep, practicing the right way, habits, all that different type of stuff, and hopefully it lines up with that. I think we’re all doing that.”