Recently, MEARS examined a 1969-70 New York Knicks home jersey of the legendary Willis Reed. While conducting the evaluation, I called upon the assistance of our head researcher, Dave Miedema, to help, as I knew he had a great deal of experience with vintage basketball uniforms. Together we evaluated this item and below is a summary report of our findings.
Made out of durene, the standard fabric for NBA jerseys of the era. Knit was introduced in the early 1970s and there was a transition period where both materials were used. The jersey was lacking a manufacturer’s tag, but size and placement of visible remnants indicate the jersey being issued by Cosby, the Knicks’ uniform supplier of the era.
The size tag was intact, indicating the jersey to be a 48. Extra length was evident, but untagged. Rarely does a tag note the extra length during this era. The overall specs would be consistent with a player who stood 6-9 and weighed 235, bulkier dimensions than many other NBA players.
Measurements of the jersey came in at 21 inches for the chest (or a size 42?), and 30 1/2 inches for the torso, smaller than tagged, but explainable due to the shrinkage common for durene and cheese cloth jerseys of this era and later. In most examples of durene jerseys from this era we found shrinkage. But, upon examination, the materials retained most of their resiliency and could be stretched when worn to the size indicated on the tag.
Year, set and player ID tagging are not present, but this is normal for nearly all pre-1987 Knicks jerseys from Cosby and Sand-Knit.
Size specs for the NOB, team name and numbers were consistent with exemplars (NEW YORK = 3 inches; NOB = 2 3/4 inches; front number = 5 15/16 inches, back number same). The vertical arch of the NOB matches other Knicks exemplars of the era.
The jersey displays consistent, moderate use, with several tiny holes in the durene fabric. Additional written provenance dates the jersey to the memorable 1969-70 season.
This jersey received a final MEARS grade of A8, with one grading point subtracted for the missing Cosby tag and an additional point subtracted for the minor damage to the durene jersey shell.
GRADING NOTE: An 8 for a jersey that does not match tagged size and has no manufacturer tag? With our documentation of the shrinkage of almost all durene jerseys from the era, MEARS policy allows for this and no points are subtracted while grading.
This jersey will be featured in SCP/Sotheby’s June 5 auction and will include three additional letters, in addition to our MEARS LOA. Two of them are from former Knicks trainer Danny Whelan. In one of the two, written in 1992 on Knicks letterhead, Whelan states that this jersey was worn by Reed during the 1969-70 NBA Championship final game. The third letter is from the director of athletics of the Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School who states that this jersey was donated to the school by Roger McCann, who worked for Madison Square Garden.
The jersey shows great game use and with the exception of the missing manufacturer’s label, appears to have no alterations of any kind. Many specific physical characteristics of the jersey, including puckering on the numbers, can be seen in several photographs of Reed shot during that famous game.