There are only two players in the long storied history of the Boston Celtics to have their number retired without winning a championship. Out of the 23 retired numbers, those two are number 22 Ed Macauley and Number 35, Mr. Reggie Lewis. Another tragic tale of what could have been. Reggie was drafted by the Celtics 22nd overall in the 1987 draft and played limited as a rookie. Due in part to a Larry Bird injury and part to a new coach his second season, Lewis played 30 minutes a game and averaged 18.5 points a game for the season. It appeared that once again the Celtics had struck gold in the draft.
When you watch Reggie play the first word that comes to mind to describe his game for me is “smooth”, or one might even say he was fucking graceful. Lewis was fast, he could shoot and probably largely in part to sharing the court with multiple Hall of Famers, he knew how to read the floor. Over his final two seasons with the Celtics, Reggie averaged 20.3 points a game. In 1993 he was off to a hot start in a playoff game against Charlotte, scoring 17 points in 13 minutes and it didn’t appear that anybody playing for Charlotte had even a prayer of slowing him down. Until he suddenly collapsed on the court and remained on the floor for several minutes.
The next day he checked into New England Baptist hospital and was told he had a heart muscle disease that I’m not going to try to spell, which could cause irregular heartbeat and heart failure. When he later sought a second opinion he was diagnosed with a less fatal heart condition and began preparation for the season. On July 27, 1993, he died of sudden cardiac arrest working out at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. He was just 27 years old. Mr. Lewis is buried in an unmarked grave at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, about fifteen minutes up the road from where I am now writing this. My train to work even passes by The Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury every night.
Naturally, after his death, as media is bound to do, The Wall Street Journal looked into the rest of his personal life and published a hit piece theorizing that his heart condition developed because of cocaine use and that his family sought to cover it up. Apparently Lewis even admitted to having used cocaine, because wow big surprise there that somebody in college in the eighties did cocaine. At the end of the day we can’t say for sure if that’s what caused it, but what we can say is who really gives a fuck? Regardless of if he may have done something that literally everyone in the eighties did, he was a phenomenal athlete and by all accounts, a great person to be around that died too young.
Of course in Boston, we will always have our What If stories in regards to Lewis and the man who would have been his counterpart in Len Bias. He was shaping up to have one hell of a career in the Green and White, and it’s a damn shame we couldn’t see the rest of it play out. Either way, Number 35 still hangs in the rafters and it hangs there for a reason.
I Salute You, Mr. Lewis
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