Remembering Boston Celtics great Reggie Lewis: Fan’s rewind

It was 18 years ago today, July 27, 1993, that one of my favorite all-time basketball players collapsed and died. Boston Celtics forward Reggie Lewis passed away after collapsing while shooting baskets at Brandeis University. He was dead at the age of 27 from a heart attack. It was the second time that Lewis had collapsed in the last four months. The first time was in the Celtics first playoff game of the 1993 playoffs against the Charlotte Hornets.

As a Celtics fan it was the second time in less than a decade that the team had to deal with the death of a player. In 1986 recently drafted forward Len Bias died. In the Bias case the cause of death was linked to cocaine use. In the Lewis case some have whispered about it, but nothing has been proven definitively.

Regardless of what caused his death, Lewis was a quiet star that was active in the Boston community. He would buy hundreds of turkeys and pass them out to less fortunate families in the Boston area annually. He was the kind of athlete like I have always liked, one that does his job and puts the team above everything else.

In his last two seasons Lewis averaged 20.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. In 1992 he was named captain of the Celtics, after Larry Bird retired. Although Bird was a tough act to follow, Lewis did a good job leading the team to the playoffs. Unfortunately the team would lose in the first round to the Hornets after Reggie wasn't able to play after collapsing. He never did get to play in an NBA game again.

The death of Lewis was a huge setback for the whole organization. It took the team years to recover. I found it utterly ridiculous that the NBA wouldn't give the Celtics any cap relief after Lewis' death.

As a fan I remember the smooth way he played. The smile he had, that could make you smile just watching him. His death hit me hard because he was just six years older than me. Lewis wasn't some old dude that died after pushing himself too hard, he was a guy cut down in his prime. I likened Lewis' death to that of Hank Gathers and another one of my favorite players Drazen Petrovic, who died in a car crash less than two months before Lewis, just taken away too soon. I think of what Lewis missed out on in his career and the fact that he never got to see his children grow up.

18 years have passed and I find I think about Lewis from time to time. In a sports world that usually forgets about you right after you are gone that is saying something. Number 35 will be a Celtic forever. He will be a player I will tell my kids about, if they ever get into basketball. Rest in peace Reggie, some of us will never forget you all too brief career.


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Updated Wednesday, Jul 27, 2011