The death of former Dunbar High School basketball star Reggie Lewis stunned an East Baltimore community and the sports world last night.
"There's no reaction . . . just a cold reaction," said Herman Harried, a former teammate of Lewis's at Dunbar. "I really don't know what to make of this. One minute, he's OK . . . the next minute, he's not."
Lewis, the Boston Celtics star who collapsed with a heart ailment during a playoff game last April, collapsed again while shooting baskets at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., late yesterday afternoon and was pronounced dead at 7:30 last night at Waltham-Weston Hospital.
"I'm just devastated," said Bob Wade, his former coach at Dunbar. "He was taking it real slow and under doctor's care."
Lewis had not worked out with his teammates since collapsing during a playoff game April 29. A team of 11 cardiologists initially told him that he suffered from a severe form of heart disease that would endanger his life if he resumed his basketball career.
Lewis sought out a second opinion and doctors at a different hospital in Boston concluded that he suffered from a comparatively benign neural condition that could be successfully treated with drugs, allowing him to resume his athletic career.
"At the time we were glad because it seemed like a clean bill of health," said Bullets coach Wes Unseld.
"It was a decision that only Reggie could make and if he had to do it again, he would make the same one," said Harried of Lewis's decision to play again.
"You hear a lot about guys continuing to play for the money, but if you love something that much, it doesn't matter. It's easy to sit on the bench and collect a decent paycheck. That wasn't the case for Reggie. He had all the money and security. He loved the game.
"Reggie was exemplary in every aspect. I just think it's a shock. It's really sad to hear this."
According to eyewitnesses, Lewis was waiting to play in a pickup game with friends at Brandeis University when he collapsed a little past 5 p.m. One witness said, "When I looked over he was making a gurgling sound, his eyes were closed, he was gasping for air, he was trying to move his hand, but he couldn't."
Former Celtics center Dave Cowens said, "I'm just sort of shocked and deeply saddened that something like this happened. We all knew that Reggie had a problem, but to find out that something like this happened is still a shock. He was a gem of a person. I don't think anybody could say anything bad about Reggie Lewis."
Last night, at a hastily called news conference, Celtics president Dave Gavitt said: "The only thing I can say is that our hearts are very heavy tonight for Reggie Lewis and his family. Reggie Lewis was an outstanding basketball player but more importantly Reggie Lewis was an outstanding human being. He had so much to give to the city of Boston, to the Celtics and to his family."