In a year that has seen the loss of, among others, Arthur Ashe and Davey Allison, the inevitable unanswerable question becomes: "Why do such bad things happen to such good people?" Reggie Lewis was a very good person.
Reggie died as captain of the Celtics, the leader and take-charge player on the NBA's proudest franchise. These achievements are all the more impressive due to the obstacles that Reggie quietly and persistently dodged along the way.
Reggie came into the NBA along with his more highly regarded high school teammates -- Reggie Williams, Muggsy Bogues and David Wingate. His coach at Dunbar in Baltimore, Bob Wade, did not start Reggie, playing Williams in front of him. Reggie simply reacted in his quiet, unobtrusive way and let it work to his advantage later.
Reggie was not about grudges or negativity. In Baltimore, divisions were drawn early. While Williams and Bogues played in one neighborhood recreation center, Wingate, Lewis and others played for a rival rec center. These divisions were deep. Indeed, Williams and Wingate, who starred together in high school and later at Georgetown, would sometimes not even speak to each other. One time, when Wingate came to the office to see me and found out Williams was in the office, he abruptly left and came back later.
Lewis bridged these gaps. Everyone liked "Truck," as he was called in Baltimore, regardless of rec center affiliation.
Ernie Graham, the one-time star at the University of Maryland with brief duty in the NBA and still a legend of the Baltimore playgrounds, told me that of all the players from Baltimore -- Wingate, Williams, Bogues, Lewis and others -- "Truck" was going to be the best, by far. Graham knew something that none of the scouts did. Reggie Lewis was special.
Reggie was drafted to play the same position as Larry Bird. He signed a minimum rookie contract and played sparingly his rookie year. He knew the then-coach K.C. Jones didn't like playing young players, but that his time would come. I found Reggie's quiet resolve wonderfully refreshing when surrounded by so many athletes complaining about the slightest interference with their career goals.
I remember Reggie's innocent fascination with his icon teammates. He revered Larry Bird and Robert Parish and was amused by the antics of Kevin McHale. Reggie used to give his trademark giggly "heh, heh" in relaying how McHale incessantly needled Danny Ainge to the point of Ainge literally crying for, and not receiving, help from Jones or any teammates.
I remember Reggie's concern for those close to him -- he bought houses for his mother and sister in Baltimore and always made sure his nieces and nephews were being cared for. I remember his concern whether his then-fiance Donna would like the engagement ring he had purchased for her. I remember receiving a package of shoes and sweatsuits for me from Reebok, his athletic shoe endorser, as a gesture of appreciation from Reggie.
In the same way he did everything -- quietly -- he made everyone he dealt with feel special. He was, until the night of his tragic death, a humble, skinny kid from Baltimore who was an absolute joy to be around.
I also remember advising him of my continuing negotiations with the Celtics and Reebok during a time when both organizations were unwilling to make a serious financial commitment to him (though they both later did). Reggie listened, understood and appreciated my efforts. He was quietly frustrated, however. In a show of remarkable pride at a time he was seeking a longer contract, he refused an offer by Celtics General Manager Jan Volk in 1989 to triple the compensation on the last year of his existing contract -- no strings attached. Again, quietly, he had made a loud point.
In high school, Reggie played behind Reggie Williams, the high school player of the year. In Boston, Reggie played behind Larry Bird, a living legend. Perhaps Reggie's now-fatal dodge of the first medical opinion that would have effectively ended his basketball career was another quiet way to overcome the odds he'd been overcoming his entire life. This time, however, the odds were bigger than playing ahead of Reggie Williams or Larry Bird. The result was tragic; the memory, inspiring.
Andrew Brandt, professor of sports law at American University and Catholic University in Washington, served with the firm Proserv as attorney/agent for Reggie Lewis for several years.