Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Reggie

35 years ago, the Boston Celtics selected Maryland forward Len Bias with the 2nd overall pick.
34 years ago, the Boston Celtics selected Northeastern guard Reggie Lewis with the 22nd pick.

One can only wonder how long the Celtics would have contended for titles with these two stars leading them. Bias died of a drug overdose two days after the 1986 Draft. Lewis died of heart failure in July 1993.

I was too young to remember Bias. I do remember that his death cast a long shadow over Lewis's. There was speculation that Lewis was using cocaine - as Bias had - but the official cause of death was a  pre-existing heart condition similar to that of Hank Gathers, the Loyola Marymount star who collapsed and died during the 1989-90 NCAA season.

Reggie Lewis was the Celtics' leading scorer in 1991-92, notably Larry Bird's final season. He averaged 20.8 points per game, made his first All-Star team, and led the C's to the playoffs. The torch was officially passed to him once Bird retired in 1992. In '92-93 Lewis was again Boston's leading scorer, averaging 20.8 points per game. Again Lewis led Boston to the playoffs.  


He collapsed in Game 1 of the first round series against Charlotte, but returned to the court after the incident. For three months questions lingered as to whether Reggie Lewis would be able to continue his playing career. His uncertain status was mentioned during the 1993 Draft, though Boston selected a center - Acie Earl - in the first round.



It had already been a somber summer for the NBA in 1993 as New Jersey Nets star Drazen Petrovic perished in a car accident a month earlier. Both guards were in their prime, leading scorers on Eastern conference playoff teams. As a 12 year-old fan I was more aware of, and affected by, the loss of Lewis than "Petro". Perhaps it was because Lewis got more publicity as a homegrown product playing for a marquee franchise.


Perhaps it was because Lewis played in Boston and I was a New England kid. The uncertainty must have been a factor as well. Every new report brought a different prognosis: Reggie wasn't going to make it. Then he was going to live, but he would have to retire. Then it seemed like he could play again. 

 

Then he was gone.

 

The Celtics had never missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons before Reggie Lewis passed away. In his final season Boston won 48 games. The year after his death the Celtics won only 32, starting a streak of eight consecutive seasons with a sub-.500 record. From 1994 to 2001 the C's qualified for the postseason just once, losing in the first round to Orlando in 1995. Boston missed the playoffs in each of the next six seasons.


 

Do you remember the career (or death) of Reggie Lewis? Was there a pro athlete's death that affected you as a young fan?



Thanks for reading.



~




4 comments:

  1. Don't remember that Reebok commercial, but I definitely remember the passing of Lewis, Bias, Gathers, and Petrovic. Don't really remember any athlete's death who made a huge impact on me during my childhood. Maybe Munson.

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  2. In the NY area and not a basketball fan, I remember Petrovic's death but not Lewis. I was too young for Munson's death, but for people older than me it was almost as big as the Kennedy assassination, with people remembering where they were when they heard about it. I can't remember one like that as a young fan in the late '80s.

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  3. Being from Portland, I remember Drazen's death much more vividly than Reggie's. I don't recall any other athlete's passing away at a young age during my childhood.

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  4. Lyman Bostock was the first one I remember. I also remember Thurman Munson...this was before the internet of course so when the newscaster said "Thurman Munson is dead...story at 11."...my 10 year old self had to stay up until 11 to hear it.

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