He was the quiet Celtic with the infectious smile. He was reserved and almost shy but his actions, both on and off the basketball court, spoke much louder than any words. He was a 6-7-basketball player, the captain of the team and the leading scorer. He was a devoted husband, father and friend to many. He was the torchbearer to a new Green and White generation. He was a soft-spoken yet powerful leader. Reggie Lewis, 27 years old, fell victim to natural causes and on Tuesday, July 27, 1993, Celtics fans tearfully said, 'good bye'.
Ten years later, Celtics.com fondly remembers him.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Lewis enjoyed success and early fame as a key member of a 50-0 Dunbar High School basketball team that also featured future NBA players Reggie Williams, David Wingate and Tyrone "Mugsy" Bogues. But he never let undefeated seasons or 30-point scoring nights interfere or distract the soul, the personality, the man himself.
That was not Reggie Lewis, nor his style.
He went on to college to Boston's Northeastern University and became an instant success averaging 17.8 points per game in his freshman year. Three years later, he would conclude his brilliant collegiate career averaging 22.2 points while connecting on almost half his field goals (1,043-for-2,098, 49.7%). The Huskies captain graduated as the team's all-time leading scorer, ninth-best in NCAA history, and in ceremonies on January 21, 1989 had his familiar number 35 retired to the Matthews Arena rafters.
Basketball experts often use words like, 'potential' and 'prime'. Reggie Lewis played only six seasons with the Boston Celtics and he had barely reached his 'peak'.
He was Boston's top draft choice (22nd pick overall in the first round) in 1987. The Celtics top management team of President Red Auerbach, General Manager Jan Volk and Head Coach Jim Rodgers liked what they saw in Lewis on that day, June 22, 1987.
Like most rookies in Celtics history, the first year is a learning one, i.e. sit and watch, and Lewis' was no exception. But he observed and learned and pushed himself in year two and appeared in 81 of the 82 regular season games and finished the campaign averaging 18.5 points per game. More importantly, he stepped in and comforted Celtics fans' fears and worries, after Larry Bird missed almost the entire season due to surgery.
Celtics fans witnessed true flashes of brilliance in Lewis during 1991-92, as he averaged a career-best 20.8 points per game (he averaged the same figure the following season) while playing in all 82 games.
Lewis appeared in the 1992 NBA All-Star game.
Photo: Steve Lipofsky
He posted a spectacular career-high 28.0 points per game in the 1992 playoffs and was the lone Celtic to be named the NBA Eastern Conference All-Star Team.
By 1992-93 he had replaced the legendary Bird as the captain of the Celtics. The soft-spoken guard had joined a select group of Celtic greats, like, Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, John Havlicek and Dave Cowens, as the team leader. Quite often, verbal remarks seemed to take a back seat. As Auerbach said, "Reggie doesn't say a lot of words, he lets his game speak for him."
Ironically, Reggie was marking his first playoff game as team captain, on April 29, 1993 at the Boston Garden facing the Charlotte Hornets, when after pouring-in 17 points (on 7-for-11 field goal and 3-for-4 free throw shooting) in just 13 minutes he collapsed on the famous parquet floor. It proved to be his final game.
There will never be a clear method of telling just how good Reggie Lewis would have been. We caught a brief moment. We have many memories.
His spirit lives on. The beautiful Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center located in Roxbury, MA is a testament to the Hall of Fame status he has achieved in the community. He remains the only Celtic in the 57-year history of the franchise to have had 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 blocked shots). And, joining twenty other distinguished legends that have had their number retired, his #35 will forever be observed and honored in the rafters of the FleetCenter.