All seemed normal… until it wasn’t.
Lewis was practicing at Brandeis University (located in Waltham) and collapsed again; this time, it was fatal.
Lewis was 27 at the time, and was becoming the face of the next generation of Celtics basketball. Drafted in the first round in 1987 out of Northeastern, Lewis did not see a lot of time his rookie season. However, in his sophomore campaign, Lewis got more opportunities as legend Larry Bird was injured the majority of the season, and he put up 18.5 PPG. Lewis phased into a starter as the 1990s began, which coincided with the decline of Bird, McHale and Parish. In Bird’s last season (91-92), Lewis put up 20.8 PPG, shooting 50.3%, earning an All-Star appearance.
Going into 1992, Kevin McHale was entering his age 35 season, and Robert Parish was entering his age 39 season; Bird was gone. It was Lewis’ team. He put up 20.8 PPG again, leading the team to the playoffs against Charlotte. Although he collapsed during Game 1, missing the rest of the series, the belief was he would recover in time for the beginning of next season.
We would not get to see Lewis enter his prime, and it is truly unfortunate and tragic. Lewis was already showing he was capable of being a good player in this league, and the athletic prime for athletes is typically in your late 20s. Lewis would have had 3-4 more seasons, at minimum, of peak production, which was good enough to reach the playoffs with a declining roster. With Lewis around, the Celtics would not have seen the decline they did in the mid-to-late 1990s (and maybe Pitino never comes to town). They would have had a legitimate piece to build around, someone to ever so slightly compete with Michael Jordan (no, not defeat, but just compete), someone to transition from the Big 3 Era to the next era of Celtics basketball.
Prior to Lewis’ passing, the Celtics always had a seamless transition of talent from era to era. They won titles (PLURAL) in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s; if there was ever a down year during those years, no matter what, a championship was within reach. There was never a championship drought of more than 5 years between 1957 and 1986. The Celtics were accustomed to winning year-after-year.
Lewis’ death changed everything.
Lewis was more than a basketball player, and it is important we remember that. Lewis attended a local Boston college (Northeastern), and had an important impact in the community. He helped finance the construction of the Reggie Lewis Track And Athletic Center in Roxbury (named after him posthumously), and believed it was important to give back. Since his passing, a scholarship from Northeastern is named after him, and his family calls the Boston area home to this day*
*Read this piece for additional information on Reggie Lewis; I learned a lot from it, using it above
“Reggie left an indelible footprint on our minds and hearts. He led by example. We are grateful to the Boston fans and world for the continued love and support shown to his family.”
– Donna M. Harris-Lewis (Reggie’s wife)
His legacy has lived on, and the Celtics have done their part to remember Lewis. His number 35 was retired in 1995. It was retired after Kevin McHale’s number 32, and before Robert Parish’s 00. A tribute to what Lewis did for the franchise, as well as what he represented to the future before his passing. Lewis has surpassed being remembered solely as a basketball player, and today we honor him for his life, and those it has impacted and touched both when he was living, and since he has passed away.
Rest in Peace, Reggie Lewis
By: Nick Collins
Follow him on Twitter (@Nick_Collins14)