Celtics pay respects with silence Controversy can wait as club and its city mourn fallen Lewis

THE BALTIMORE SUN

BOSTON -- The first meeting between Boston Celtics officials and Donna Harris-Lewis since the death of her husband, Celtics captain and former Dunbar star Reggie Lewis, is expected to take place here this morning.

Lewis, 27, died Tuesday after suffering complete cardiac arrest while shooting baskets at the team's practice facility at nearby Brandeis University. Lewis' death came nearly three months after he collapsed during a playoff game.

After a meeting yesterday that was attended by high-ranking team officials as well as Celtics guard Dee Brown, general manager Jan Volk said through a team spokesman that no public statements would be made for at least another 24 hours out of respect for the Lewis family.

Celtics executive vice president Dave Gavitt indicated late yesterday that the team was going to follow the wishes of Donna Harris-Lewis, who remained in seclusion at her home in Dedham. "We are going to wait for the family to handle the arrangements," a distraught Gavitt said as he left the team's offices.

Said former Celtics player M. L. Carr, who now works in the team's community relations department, "We should throw our arms around Donna and the family being that was the way Reggie was with everyone here."

There are still many unanswered questions regarding the death of Lewis, who became one of this city's most popular athletes during his 11 years as a player, first at Northeastern University and for the past seven years with the Celtics. There is also the lingering controversy as to whether his death was preventable.

But while the questions have yet to be answered, and the controversy is far from quieting, the only certainty was how beloved the Baltimore native had become in his adopted hometown. Not only for the wondrous things he did in a basketball uniform, but for the genuine things he did off the court and away from the spotlight.

Lewis' last official act as captain -- a position he inherited last season following the retirement of Celtics legend Larry Bird -- was to represent the team at the funeral for former teammate Brian Shaw's parents and sister, who were killed in an automobile accident last month.

"The legacy of Reggie Lewis was that he made life a little better for everyone in this city," said Carr, who was known for having similar traits during his career here. "Let it remain that way, not only in a time of sorrow, but for a long time to come."

In a prepared statement, NBA commissioner David Stern said: "The Boston Celtics and the NBA have lost a talented member of our family. Reggie proved his love for the game of basketball, always striving for and achieving the highest levels of play. Away from the court he was an outstanding young man who always made the NBA, the Celtics and the city of Boston proud to be associated with him. The entire NBA joins me in extending its heartfelt sympathies to Reggie's family."

Lewis' former agent, Andrew Brandt, now a professor at American University and Catholic University, said he wasn't like most athletes. "As an agent I always got calls from players who complained about playing time and felt they were better than someone else," Brandt said. "I never heard that from Reggie. He knew [former coach] K. C. Jones didn't like playing younger players, so he just waited for his turn. He had a quiet confidence, and that was very attractive about him.

"Arthur Ashe and Reggie were two of my clients, and they were two of the best people I ever worked with. You just wonder why the best people are taken away."

Although many of Lewis' charitable acts received a great deal of publicity -- such as handing out 500 turkeys at Thanksgiving the past three years, or visiting sick children at hospitals -- there were countless acts of giving for which he did not receive, or seek, any attention.

During the 20 continuous hours that WEEI, the Celtics-owned local all-sports radio station, devoted to discussing Lewis' death, fans and non-fans alike called in to share their grief and their love for No. 35. Even former mayor Ray Flynn called from Rome early yesterday morning after learning of Lewis' death.

One of the more touching calls came from a woman who called in yesterday afternoon to talk about what Lewis had done for her daughter.

"My little girl wasn't doing too well in school," she said. "But one day Reggie showed up at her after-school center and took her under his wing. He might have been a big star to everyone else, but to her he was just Reggie. He might have saved her life."

While the airwaves were filled with talk about Lewis, the sports merchandising shops near Boston Garden were inundated with requests for autographed pictures, jerseys and other memorabilia.

Howard Shear, a 23-year-old student from nearby Brockton, bought a $45 replica of Lewis' Celtics jersey. "There's a lot of grief," Shear said. "Everyone's listening to the talk shows, they can't believe it. He was such a nice guy and everything. Once everybody heard that Reggie was fine when the doctor said it, nobody expected this."

There was also some perverse capitalizing on Lewis' death. At the Upper Deck store in the Boston Garden-North Station complex, autographed pictures that had been selling for $50 as recently as Tuesday afternoon had doubled in price.

"It's a sad thing to do," said Brian Devine, a salesman and Garden tour guide who was acting on orders from the store's manager. "But people are still buying them."

One of the unanswered questions centers on whether Lewis was planning a comeback at all. He was given clearance to play in May by Dr. Gilbert Mudge, a widely respected cardiologist at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital who determined that Lewis was suffering from a treatable neurological problem. Neither Mudge nor hospital officials were available for comment yesterday.

Mudge's diagnosis differed sharply from that of 12 doctors brought in by the Celtics after Lewis collapsed in April. The doctors -- dubbed by some as the "Dream Team" of Boston's top cardiologists and heart surgeons -- had diagnosed Lewis as suffering from cardiomyopathy, the same ailment that killed former Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers three years ago.

Northeastern coach Karl Fogel, who recruited Lewis out of high school and served as both assistant and head coach during the 6-foot-7 swingman's career there, said yesterday that recent conversations with his former star and Lewis' wife left a strong feeling of doubt whether Lewis was going to give pro basketball another try.

"Donna said that she was 97 percent certain Reggie was going to play again, but if you know Donna, that means about 50-50," said Fogel. "When he first got the OK from Dr. Mudge, I think he embraced the news. But as time went on, I think he was second-guessing it himself."

Fogel said he usually saw Lewis around Northeastern quite a bit during the summer, but he hardly saw him at all this year. The two spoke during the Celtics' rookie and free-agent camp recently at Brandeis. Lewis was there just to watch.

"I told him that when he came back, he was going to get the loudest standing ovation in the history of Boston Garden," Fogel said.

Asked if he told Lewis to give up the game for the sake of his health and his family, Fogel said, "I don't know if anyone had the courage to tell him not to play. I know I didn't, but I wish now that I had."

Neither did Carr, who spent time with Donna Harris-Lewis and her family in the hours after her husband's death. Carr said that trying to lay blame is not something his late friend would have wanted.

"It was his decision [to play]. He made his decision. I challenged Darryl Dawkins and Julius Erving, but I won't challenge God," said Carr. "God has plucked one of his angels. God doesn't make mistakes. God allowed us to experience Reggie Lewis for 27 years of his life, and for that we are fortunate."

What saddened Carr is that Lewis, who took much of his time and got much pleasure out of working with children, will never get to watch his own grow up. Lewis and his wife had their first child, Reggie Jr., last September and recently had learned that they were expecting their second.

"The happiest I ever saw him was when little Reggie was born," said Carr, tears in his eyes. "That's why God blessed him with a son. He was so good with everybody else's kids."

RELATED DEATHS

A partial list of sports figures who died from heart ailments:

Athlete ....... Sport ....... Yr.

Eddie Hanna ... Colo. A&M; ... '49

..... ..... ... football

Norman Domm ... pro bowler... '53

Harry Agganis.. Red Sox ..... '55

Thomas Luppe... Dayton ...... '63

...... .... ... basketball

Chuck Hughes... Lions ....... '71

Chris Patton... Terps ....... '76

..... ..... ... basketball

Owen Brown .... Terps ....... '76

.... ..... .... basketball

Paul Kinney ... Calvert Hall..'80

.... ..... .... basketball

Randy Blair.... WJZ ...... .. '82

..... .... .... charity game

Larry Gordon... Dolphins .... '83

Flo Hyman ..... volleyball .. '86

Jonathan Ausby. Andover ..... '87

..... ..... ... basketball

Hank Gathers L. M'mount ..... '90

.... ...... ... basketball

Earnest Killum. Ore. State... '92

..... ..... ... basketball

Reggie Lewis... Celtics ..... '93

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