BOSTON — BOSTON -- They came from as far away as Australia, and from as nearby as the neighborhoods surrounding Northeastern University. They waited in the early-morning heat, some for more than five hours, then filled sweltering Matthews Arena with their love and admiration for Reggie Lewis.
In the old gymnasium where he built his reputation and where his uniform number has hung from the rafters for four years, about 6,000 fans, friends, relatives and teammates paid their respects to the late Boston Celtics captain and the most famous sixth man in Dunbar High School history. An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 attended the viewing.
It was an emotional funeral service mixed with tears and laughter for Lewis, who died a week ago today at age 27 of cardiac arrest after shooting baskets at the Celtics' practice facility at Brandeis University. The service, which lasted nearly two hours, was preceded by a public viewing of Lewis, who was buried later in a private ceremony.
"He was Superman on the basketball court and Clark Kent off it," said Northeastern University president John Curry, the first of more than a dozen to eulogize Lewis. "[He was] a young man who cared about other people. . . . He was, quite simply, a beautiful person."
Earlier in the day, Curry had announced that Reggie Lewis and Donna Harris-Lewis' children -- 10-month old Reginald Jr. and one expected early next year -- will be guaranteed full scholarships to Northeastern, where the couple met.
The tributes were similar to those that have been made since Lewis' death last week, three months after he collapsed during a first-round playoff game against the Charlotte Hornets at the Boston Garden. First found to have a life-threatening heart ailment, Lewis later was told that he was suffering from a less-serious neurological condition that would allow him to continue his six-year NBA career.
But a third opinion, reached by a group of heart specialists in Southern California in late June, said that Lewis had structural damage in his heart that further clouded his future. He was scheduled to undergo a stress test under competitive conditions and monitored by his Boston cardiologist, Dr. Gilbert Mudge, this week in Baltimore. Instead, there will be a memorial service Thursday in his hometown.
Yesterday was supposed to be only for the happy memories from Lewis' life, not for the controversy that surrounds his death. Yet some of the controversy found its way into remarks made by two of Lewis' closest friends. Mostly, though, those who shared their thoughts talked about a quiet man who was atypical for a pro athlete.
"Reggie was about simple things," recalled one of his former college coaches, Jim Calhoun, who left Northeastern for Connecticut before Lewis' senior year. "Wit, that special, special smile, the special comfort he gave others. I may coach another great player, the Celtics will have another captain, the NBA will have other great players, but we'll never have another Reggie. We'll never forget him."
Fighting through tears, Calhoun looked to the open casket and said, "Thanks, Reggie. I love you."
Later on, former Dunbar and South Carolina star Terry Dozier recalled how he, his twin brother, Perry, and their favorite cousin grew up together in Baltimore. Terry Dozier, with his brother crying on his shoulder and several former Poets looking on, said that "everyone knew we were inseparable, like Siamese triplets."
Terry Dozier, who now is playing professional basketball in Australia and flew home last week after hearing the news, said the three were never far apart.
"It was, 'You see Terry? He's with Perry. You see Perry? He's with Reggie. You see Reggie? He's with Terry and Perry.' We were the three horsemen who roamed the streets of Baltimore. When Perry stopped playing, I was playing for two. Now, I'm playing for three."
Said Perry Dozier: "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be the man I am now. Reggie was a complete man. I'm still trying to get there. When I was at South Carolina, I'd tell people about Reggie and they'd say, 'Who's Reggie?' "
Then Perry Dozier cried and said, "Guess everyone knows who Reggie is now," and embraced his brother as they walked off the stage.
"Reggie is in God's garden now," said Irvin Lewis Jr., who implored those in the arena to chant his brother's first name.
While many have talked about Lewis' shy but welcoming smile, Jerome Stanley spoke about something that just as many others felt -- Lewis' generosity. He reached out to the homeless, to whom he gave turkeys at Thanksgiving, and to sick children, whom he visited without much notice and little, if any, fanfare.
"What made Reggie superior to us was what eventually cost him his life -- his heart," said Stanley, a Los Angeles attorney who recently was rehired to represent Lewis. "His heart made him so special. His heart is where he stored his pride and his character. He gave tens and hundreds and thousands of kids in Boston and Baltimore a chance because he showed he cared."
Former Northeastern teammate Andre LaFleur, who, like Terry Dozier, flew in from Australia after learning of the death of "the best friend I ever had," said: "I think we should all learn from the way he lived. He was such a caring person. He was such a loving person. He'd give you the shirt off his back. I love him and I miss him."
Celtics teammate Robert Parish recalled driving home with his daughter from a game a couple of seasons ago. She didn't seem so interested in how her father played, but was thrilled that Reggie Lewis had shaken her hand.
One of a number of current and former Boston players, including Larry Bird, to attend yesterday's service, Parish said: "Reggie gave from the heart. That's why Reggie was loved so much."
Said Charles Grantham, executive director of the NBA Players' Association: "Reggie Lewis, MVP. Most Valuable Person."
Much of the service was devoted to pleasant memories and favorite anecdotes about Lewis, but some also directed their comments to the media speculation surrounding his death as well as to the Celtics, who were mum about his future with the team before he died.
Former Northeastern player and assistant coach Keith Motley spoke angrily about the recent rumors that doctors requested drug tests be done on Lewis after his initial collapse, as well as the allegations that Lewis went against doctors' orders by playing in at least one recent pickup game.
"God is not concerned with rumors and speculation," said Motley, Northeastern dean of student services, who was acting as a spokesman for the Lewis family. "God will not examine the hearsay. God will examine the worth."
Said Boston radio talk show host Jimmy Myers, a family friend who broke the news of Lewis' collapse to his wife: "This man died a hero. We're not going to let them destroy that." Myers then challenged the Celtics to make good on their promise of continuing the programs started by the Lewises.
"Don't turn a cold shoulder when Donna comes to you a year from now," Myers said. "If you do, I will be a soldier at the fence. . . . All he did for us, don't forget what you owe him."
Celtics executive vice president Dave Gavitt reaffirmed the pledge he made to Lewis' widow last week, saying: "The Boston Celtics will rollup their sleeves, along with Northeastern University, not only to help Donna and the family, but we will do everything in our power to preserve Reggie's memory and legacy."
That legacy was summed up by remarks from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who met Lewis after the late player's wife reacted strongly when Magic Johnson announced that he had tested positive for HIV, and by former Dunbar student Alyssa Brooks, whose boyfriend, Derrick Lewis, played with Reggie Lewis at Dunbar and Northeastern as well as at the Cecil-Kirk Recreation Center in Baltimore.
"Reggie really was a light in dark places, heat in cold places," said Jackson, who attended the service. "The light was eclipsed at high noon."
Said Brooks: "He was like a small flower in the shade of the tree that no one noticed. When it was time to water, it was too late."