The headline in yesterday's Herald read "Lewis Comes Scarily to Mind." They were talking about the heart problem that Big Papi has been diagnosed with. The article went on to say,
"Thirteen years ago this summer, of course, we said the same about Lewis. The Celtics were in the midst of a spring playoff game against the Charlotte Hornets when Lewis fell to the parquet floor of the old Boston Garden, a pained expression on his face. What took place in the subsequent hours, days, weeks and months (and years?) was one of the darkest periods for anyone who ever has enjoyed sports in Boston. I know because I was there, sitting courtside when Lewis hit the floor. And I was there, at the Herald, when reports first began to surface that Lewis collapsed again on the court during a summer workout on July 27, 1993, at Brandeis University in Waltham. And this time, sadly, a 27-year-old Reggie Lewis never got up. I was there, outside the wake, sliding down the front seat of a car on an assignment that I did not care for. And I was there, for the funeral, when an entire region mourned the death of an adored, adopted son and asked the simplest question: Why? Now we are talking about Ortiz, whose condition appears less serious than the one that felled Lewis. We just need to find out for sure. And even then, who really knows? Not long after Lewis collapsed, remember, Dr. Gilbert Mudge, Lewis and the former player’s wife held a press conference to tell us that Lewis had a normal “athlete’s heart,” that he suffered only from a benign fainting disorder and that our worries were unfounded. "
This got me thinking about Reggie Lewis. We saw articles everywhere about the anniversary of the death of Len Bias this year, and much speculation on the affect his death had on the Celtics. The death of Reggie Lewis was an equal and possibly a bigger blow to the Celtics but gets less attention in the media these days.
Reggie was drafted by the Celtics with the next to the last pick in the first round of the 1987 draft. He missed a good part of his rookie season with an injury and was a backup during the next two seasons, but averaged over 30 minutes a game because he could be used at small forward or shooting guard. Very quick, Lewis could score by driving to the basket or by shooting from outside.
Lewis became a starter in 1990-91, when Larry Bird was out much of the year with an injury, and he was named the team's captain after Bird's retirement in 1992. He averaged 20.8 points a game in both 1991-92 and 1992-93.
In Boston's first game of the 1993 playoffs, Lewis collapsed and had to be taken to a hospital. Displeased when a team of doctors told him he would have to give up basketball because of a heart disease, Lewis changed hospitals and doctors in the middle of the night. He was then advised that his heart was healthy and that he could begin training again, under medical supervision.
On July 27, 1993, Lewis entered the Brandeis arena with a friend at about 4 p.m. to prepare for a fullcourt pickup game that night. After about an hour on the court without even working up a sweat, Lewis crumpled near the 3-point line. Nearly two hours after he collapsed at 5:07 p.m. on July 27, 1993, the hospital announced Reggie Lewis was dead at 27. In the wake of his death, the heart wrenching news came out that earlier in the day, Reggie's wife Donna had just found out that she was pregnant with their second child. She never got to give Reggie the news.
Then, over subsequent months and years, it became so ugly. There were unconfirmed reports cocaine had been at least partly responsible for the tragedy, and a debate arose among doctors whether the death could have been prevented. After his first collapse in April, Lewis had been examined by two teams of cardiologists in Boston and one in Los Angeles. Speaking for one of the Boston groups, Dr. Gilbert Mudge said May 10 that Lewis had "a normal athlete's heart" and suffered only from a minor fainting condition called neurocardiogenic syndrome. The other Boston group, a Dream Team of cardiologists assembled by Celtics doctor Arnold Scheller, reached a far more ominous conclusion: Lewis was susceptible to ventricular arrhythmia — a potentially lethal condition that had led to the oncourt death of Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers three years earlier.
"The real tragedy is that right now we should be saying, 'Reggie has a pacemaker and can't play basketball anymore,' " veteran star McHale said after Lewis' death. "Instead we have to mourn him."
After his death, still reeling from the personal loss of their captain as well as the loss the previous year of their draft pick, the Celtics tried to pick up the pieces and go on. They petitioned the league for relief from his salary but were denied. It seemed the franchise was given one blow after another and still have not recovered from this devastating series of events.
Reggie's accomplishments on the court are well documented. He is only player in the 59-year history of the Celtics to have registered 100 rebounds, 100 assists, 100 steals and 100 blocked shots in a single season which he did in the 1991/92 season with 394 rebounds, 185 assists, 125 steals and 105 blocks. Reggie once blocked four shots from Michael Jordan in one game.
Reggie Lewis left fans around the nation with memories of his basketball accomplishments. But also memorable was his demeanor off the hardwood. His contributions to the community were just as consistent as his jumpshots. Reggie began an annual giveaway where he purchased hundreds of turkeys and gave them to underprivileged families in the area, without any media or fanfare surrounding it. He was always seen with a smile and was a genuine caring person. Reggie's widow, Donna Harris-Lewis, has continued her husbands legacy of kindness through the Reggie Lewis Foundation, which still annually sponsors the turkey giveaway that Reggie began.
After his death, The Reggie Lewis Track and Field Center, was opened in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The center was funded partially by Lewis and routinely hosts major track and field competitions as well as home basketball games for Roxbury Community College.
Reggie's greatest influence on people occurred off of the basketball court. Reggie had strong morals, humility and compassion. His life, a story of perseverence and strong family values as well as tremendous basketball potential that never reached its peak are chronicled in the book Reggie Lewis, Quiet Grace Written by Craig Windham.
These days, when we read about another loved Boston athlete having heart problems and our thoughts go back to our fallen Captain, we need to think of his life and celebrate it, rather than his death because Reggie was all about life and living it to the fullest. Remember his quiet spirit, his infections smile, and his love for the game.
What a said and empty feeling we all felt on the day the we heard that Reggie passed on. To this day, I remember watching that C's vs. Hornets playoff game, in which Reggie stumbled awkwardly to the floor. I remember chuckling a bit, thinking that Reggie had clumsly tripped over his own feet, since I did view him as a rather clumsy, but graceful dear. But along with the slight chuckle, I was also a bit confused because as they showed numerous replays, I noticed that he didn't trip over himself. He just seemed to lose his coordination and he couldn't pick up his feet as he semi jogged up the court.
Larry Bird is the reason why I'm a Celtics fan. But after he retired, Reggie became the reason why I continued being a Celtics fan. It was a big loss for me.
* In each of his six seasons, he successively increased his free throw percentage.
* Was selected to play in his first and only NBA All-Star Game held in Orlando, Florida, 1992, playing 15 minutes, scoring seven points and grabbing four rebounds.
* He is only player in the 59-year history of the Celtics to have registered 100 rebounds, 100 assists, 100 steals and 100 blocked shots in a single season (1991/92 with 394 rebounds, 185 assists, 125 steals and 105 blocks).
* Lewis once blocked four shots from Michael Jordan in one game.
* Lewis was one of four players from the 1981-82 team of Dunbar High School in Baltimore to play in the NBA.
(The other three were Muggsy Bogues, then a fellow junior, Reggie Williams, then a senior and David Wingate, also a senior. The Dunbar team that season was so deep in talent that Lewis did not start. Reggie was the sixth man, which he was unhappy with despite the praise he received from his coaches and other players for his role as a valuable weapon off of the bench. While many other players were recruited by colleges nationwide, only Northeastern University pursued him. Reggie went to Northeastern, where he became the school's greatest player of all time. Reggie's greatest influence on people occurred off of the basketball court. Reggie had strong morals, humility and compassion. His life, a story of perseverence and strong family values as well as tremendous basketball potential that never reached its peak.