Bearing the name of a famous individual, particularly one who played the same sport and also was rather tall, can lead to a gaggle of jokes.
Just ask Nets big man Willie Reed.
"I hear it a lot," he said last week in Las Vegas, referencing the never-ending barbs comparing him to Knicks legend Willis Reed. "You wouldn't guess how many times I hear it. At least three or four times a day. But that's a good thing that people think about him, they think about me. And it's not only because of my name, but because of the way I play."
Reed's refusal to give up on his dream of an NBA career landed him a one-year deal worth about $500,000 with the Nets, completing a whirlwind 12 months in which the 6-11, 230-pounder's luggage consistently doubled as his dresser drawer.
Perseverance was essential for the 25-year-old, an undrafted free agent who has played in 101 games in the NBA Development League and previously was waived by the Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings and Nets before ever appearing in an NBA game.
He was released by the Nets in October exactly four weeks after being signed to their training camp roster. His itinerary after playing for the Pacers in last year's summer league involved a stint in Israel before D-League stops in Michigan and Iowa.
Reed also suited up for Metros de Santiago, a pro team in the Dominican Republic. Then it was off to Miami this month to latch on to the Heat's summer league team. Reed was impressive with the Heat in four games in Orlando, prompting the Nets to sign him.
"I've been living out of suitcases, washing my clothes the whole time, so it's been crazy," Reed said. "It's what you love to do, so it can't take a toll on you that much. But I am just happy that it ended up with this contract. That just means that everything I've been doing, all the work I've been putting in, God's blessed me with this opportunity."
The Nets were impressed with Reed's athleticism, believing he would be a better option than bringing back 7-footer Jerome Jordan to bolster their front-line depth. The coaching staff quickly noticed growth in Reed's game.
"The biggest thing about Willie is he's got valuable time in the D-League and he really improved on his skills," said Nets assistant coach Joe Wolf, who works closely with the team's big men. "Overall, he's just a much better player. He understands situations and schemes better defensively. He's playing bigger than he has been and I think that's really helped him. He's an athlete."
Reed's worlds are converging in a way that further solidifies his faith, creating a sense of accomplishment and achievement wrapped around a whole lot of happiness. He will marry his fiancee, Jasmine Tart, in a month. They've known each other for three years, meeting during Reed's first season in the D-League in 2012.
They have a 11/2-year-old son, Nathaniel, and are expecting another child within the next few months. When Reed played in the summer league in Las Vegas, he knew that when he got back home, he would learn whether they were having a boy or girl.
"It's been crazy, just because everything is starting to come into focus right now," Reed said. "I've got my contract now, and now I'm going to get married. It's like all the good things are happening to me at the right time."