Full Scale Sports

Da Don’s Verdict: Why Basketball Fans All over the World Should Remember Reggie Lewis

BOSTON,MA- Over time we’ve heard of some great athletes, musicians and celebrities whose lives got cut short for whatever reason, some for drugs, some in tragic accidents, or in the case of the very rare a health condition that eats them away or kills them. In the case of former Celtics G Reggie Lewis it was a health condition not treated correctly.

I’m not a doctor or a medical student but what I do is sports, their impact on and off the court. For Lewis his impact on the city of Boston during his life left him a legacy of being a great role model for kids of all backgrounds can look to admire.

(CSNNE) Comcast Sports Net New England aired a 90 minute documentary about the life and legacy of one of the most beloved and bestowed athletes in Boston Sports. That man is Reggie Lewis, born in raised in East Baltimore, Lewis played HS ball at a National Championship winning program Dunbar HS with future NBA players like Mugsy Bogues, David Wingate, and Reggie Williams, and in fact his head coach in HS was Bob Wade who later became the HS at the University of Maryland.

While Bogues went to Wake Forest, Wingate and Williams went to Georgetown, Lewis decided to play for coach Jim Calhoun and Northeastern University in Boston, MA. Calhoun’s Northeastern teams in the mid 1980’s led by Reggie Lewis went to the NCAA tournament in the three years they were together. Before Lewis’s senior year, Jim Calhoun left Northeastern to coach the University of Connecticut but it didn’t slow down Lewis.

Lewis left Northeastern in 1987 as the school’s all-time leading scorer an accolade which he still holds. Lewis also left his mark in other aspects, the Huskies went to the NCAA Tournament all four years he attended the school. He entered the NBA Draft along with former Dunbar HS teammates Muggsy Bogues and Reggie Williams.

Williams was drafted 4th by the Clippers, Bogues fell to 13th and joined the Washington Bullets. Lewis played for a mid-major school which was probably the sole reason he fell to the Celtics to the 22nd pick in the 1st round. Red Auerbach said for years how Lewis embodies “the Ultimate Celtic” and maybe he saw that from the beginning.

He joined the team for the 1987-88 NBA season they had been to the NBA Finals for four straight seasons but HC KC Jones never liked playing young guys. Lewis’s early role in light of that was to give Larry Bird a breather. Lewis gradually improved year after year. In 1988 he averaged 18.5 ppg which was a huge improvement from his rookie year and continued to improve each season.

Eventually Larry Bird retired in 1992 and Reggie Lewis took over the leadership role becoming the 6th captain in team history. He took that role and became an All-Star in 1992 his only All-Star appearance, he also carried the Celtics to the Conference Semifinals in 1992. He also led them back to the playoffs in 1993 also getting to go head to head against former HS teammate Muggsy Bogues.

In the 1st game of the 1993 playoff series between Boston and Charlotte looked like a 5 game series you had both teams going back and forth, Reggie would hit a shot then the young front court of the Hornets was standing their ground against Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish. But that juristically changed when Reggie Lewis fell to the ground along the left baseline right along the 3pt line. Initially everyone thought he tripped but the replay showed he just fell to the ground after stumbling. He returned to the game in the second quarter but left again to get tested then made a second return only to leave once again. That game vs. the Charlotte Hornets turned out to be the last game any NBA fan got to see Reggie Lewis play.

All the speculation about what happened is still being debated today, there were a “dream team” of cardiac specialists who worked together to find a diagnosis for Lewis. It turns out the condition that had been attributed to his own genetics. There were other stories of supposedly using drugs particularly cocaine have disputed for the last twenty years.

One morning of leisurely shooting hoops at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA, Lewis collapsed and despite the CPR that was operated on him before paramedics and emergency crews arrived he was pronounced dead at 9:30 pm on July 27, 1993. People were shocked by his death and the Boston media reacted to the tragedy as they lost a hero, their role model, the man who represented the city for ten years as a Northeastern Huskie and a Boston Celtic.

I won’t go into the supposed drug use because based on what I looked at the “evidence” or lack thereof, there isn’t hard evidence meaning a failed drug test known to the public or anyone was credibility to say he did, no audio, video or anything so in light of that I’m not going to talk in detail about the Wall Street Journal article in 1995 or what some dealer said about Lewis buying off him.

What I will go forward in saying as someone who loves studying different eras of sports will try to evaluate his career and what could’ve been. The great Michael Jordan said of Lewis “Reggie was on his way to being something really special. Here’s this talented guy who had never done anything wrong, who did so much for the city of Boston, and the next thing you know, he’s gone.”

Jim Calhoun, Dee Brown and the great broadcaster Jimmy Myers all spoke at his funeral service which was held in Matthews Arena at Northeastern University. Fans crowded Boston whether it would be Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Roxbury no matter where people embraced him. R&B artist Michael Bivins of New Edition and Bell, Biv and Devoe said “the only thing that matter was Green and White” when speaking about Boston uniting during the mourning period of Lewis’s death.

In the years following his death, the Celtics and the community of Boston went the extra mile to leave Lewis connected with them for the coming generations. First the Celtics retired the #35 on March 22nd 1995 one of the final games in the old Boston Garden (Bawstin Gahden as the locals would call him). Then Captain Dee Brown, team president and godfather of Celtics basketball Red Auerbach, and legendary player and broadcaster Tom Heinsohn all spoke during the ceremony at halftime against the Chicago Bulls.

Another addition to his legacy the city of Boston funded a recreation center in memory of Reggie Lewis’s impact on the Boston community. The building located in Roxbury it’s called the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center which opened in 1995. Every year it hosts the MIAA State Championships in Track and Field, the Roxbury Community College Basketball Team, Boston Indoor Games, and the Nike Indoor Nationals since 2008.

Final Verdict:

Reggie Lewis was a player I only heard about thru youth basketball coaches and my curiosity of who were the great players not only in Celtics history but in NBA history. CSSNE did a superb job in hitting every angle of Reggie’s Life, the humble beginnings in East Baltimore to winning National Championships with Dunbar HS playing along side three other future NBA players.

Reggie Lewis’s numbers during the last two years of his career played like a player who was no doubt going to be a perennial All-Star and on his way to leading the Celtics into the next era of Celtics basketball.

After his death it took until 2001-02 to see the Celtics have a legitimate chance at a title with Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker. If Lewis had been healthy and well, the Celtics would have extended their playoff run for another three to five years. Maybe with Lewis the Celtics would’ve been a bigger player in free agency and in trades in the later part of the 90’s for players like Shaq, Mourning, Larry Johnson, Tim Hardaway, and etc.

The sad part of all the hope and promise that he had and could have had is that he wasn’t given the chance to have nor had the chance to play it out. The tragedy of Reggie Lewis in addition to the Len Bias tragedy in 1986 led to a long string of bad luck to a franchise that has only measured seasons by deep playoff runs and championships.

As a lifetime citizen of Massachusetts and someone who’s very passionate about sports and particularly about the Boston Celtics it pains me to not hear about players like Reggie Lewis being mentioned as one of the great Celtics ever, this off-season the Celtics traded long-time captain Paul Pierce and we’re all defining his legacy now. Pierce was able to do what Lewis wanted to do and that was to win a title for the city of Boston and its devoted fans. Remember Reggie Lewis for his play on the court, for the measure of his great character and of course for his impact on a generation of Boston Celtics fans.

Reggie Lewis’s Number Retired Pt. 1

Reggie Lewis’s Number Retired Pt. 2

Reggie’s Final Game

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