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Lewis earns stripes as Celtics captain Dunbar alum takes over for Bird off the court, too


WALTHAM, Mass. -- To Reggie Lewis, the trainer's tables now belong.

There are two of them in the Celtics' locker area at Boston Garden. One, not surprisingly, is in the trainer's room, which is off-limits to the media. As of yesterday, when he was named Celtics captain, Lewis has first dibs on that table.

He also is heir to the other trainer's table, the one in the middle of the dressing room. For 13 seasons, captain Larry Bird conducted postgame interviews from that very spot, surrounded by a pack of reporters.

In victory, it is a throne. In defeat, a hot seat.

"A huge part of the responsibility of the team will fall directly on his shoulders," forward Kevin McHale, a 12-year veteran, said after practice at Brandeis University yesterday.

"Reggie is a great guy, a great player and he's coming into his own," McHale said. "I think you'll see a little different Reggie this year, as far as dealing with the media and stuff. He's going to have to assume more of that responsibility. Now, a lot of times after losses, people are going to ask him what's wrong. And he's going to have to answer."

After conferring with coach Chris Ford, it was the decision of center Robert Parish, 39, and McHale, 34, to bestow the captaincy upon Lewis, who began his basketball career at Baltimore's Dunbar High School.

"I don't think it's necessarily because they [Parish and McHale] didn't want to [be captain]," Lewis said. "I think it's because the team is in a transition period, and I think they thought that it was best that a younger guy like myself [he's 26] assume the responsibility."

Another reason: Since Bird retired in August, everyone associated with the Celtics has known Lewis is the team's soul. Really, it was a logical succession.

"It's definitely the right decision," said veteran center Joe Kleine. "We look to Reggie for leadership. I mean, he's the man."

With Bird missing 37 games because of back problems last season, Lewis averaged a career-high 20.9 points. He became the first Celtic to lead the team in steals, blocks and points in the same season since Dave Cowens in 1977-78. They are the only two Celtics to accomplish the feat.

Lewis took over Bird's role as top scorer last season. Then, in the playoffs, Lewis jacked his average up to 28 ppg. When crunch time came, Bird was feeding Lewis.

"This means I've come a long way," Lewis said. "I've worked very hard to get where I am."

Fans can look for more. After five years of defining himself as a scorer -- and emerging as an All-Star last season -- Lewis has been hard at work improving his ball-handling and passing skills. Deadly from 20 feet in, Lewis said he'll be looking for more threes this year, to open things in the low box for McHale, Parish, Xavier McDaniel & Co.

"I look for Reggie to have a tremendous year this year," McHale said, "just a knockdown, drag 'em out year."

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