Why Reggie Lewis?


It is all but unimaginable that a non-competitive, off-season shoot-around could kill a basketball All-Star, a man who had played in hundreds of pressure-packed contests in high school, college and six years in the pros. But, in fact, it is not impossible. It happened to Reggie Lewis of Baltimore Tuesday night.

Here's a man who had been playing basketball for most of his 27 years, and at the highest levels.

He didn't just play on a routinely great Dunbar High team; he played on possibly the greatest prep team of all time, the only one to have three of its players selected in the first round of the professional basketball draft. He didn't simply play college ball; his 2,709 points at Boston's Northeastern University was ninth in the history of big-time college basketball. He didn't just bide time in the pros; he was named captain of the sport's most historic franchise, the Boston Celtics. And in another accomplishment in a medium rife with anti-role models, he was widely admired for his personal qualities.

"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," Celtics president Dave Gavitt said.

In all those years playing basketball -- through all the conditioning, the rigid physicals and competition in one of the world's most rigorous team sports -- no health problems surfaced, at least not publicly, for Reggie Lewis. Then, just last April, he collapsed during a playoff game. He didn't play again and the season ended shortly thereafter. His sudden illness caused much concern in the sports community, which remembered the freakish death three years ago of a college basketball star named Hank Gathers from a heart condition. But conflicting diagnoses helped convince Mr. Lewis he could at least begin limited practice again.

The tragic ending doesn't fit what otherwise was a fairy tale. Reggie Lewis wasn't the best player at Dunbar; in fact, he didn't even start on a team with future National Basketball Association stars Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues and Reggie Williams. But as an All-Star pro and team captain, he probably ended up the most accomplished of them all.

In less than six weeks, professional basketball has lost two of its star players: Drazen Petrovic, a hero in his native war-torn Croatia, was killed in a car crash in Germany last month. And now Reggie Lewis, a hero among the asphalt playgrounds, the marble-stepped rowhomes and the low-rise projects of East Baltimore.

We join the entire Baltimore area in mourning his untimely death.

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