I was going into the fourth grade in the summer of 1993. And participating in the Needham Park and Rec sports camp during the last week of July. We had teams that consisted of NBA teams. The Bulls, Knicks, Pistons and of course Celtics were the popular ones. My friends on the Celtics were yelling out “I’m Dee Brown!” “I wanna be Robert Parrish!”
And then one of my friends said “I’m Reggie Lewis!”
Sitting at home in our living room on July 27, 1993, consisting of just me, my mom (who was pregnant with my youngest brother) and my middle brother, was the norm for just us three. My Dad worked overnights as a police officer in Brookline. We had TV 38 on with the Red Sox at Milwaukee and we were all playing Monopoly Jr., which was the main focus of attention. At some point though, Sean McDonough announced to the audience that “Celtics forward Reggie Lewis has died after collapsing today at Brandeis. He was 27.”
We all had the same stunned reaction. I asked my mom if I could call the police station to page Dad and have him call home (that was the way to do things before smartphones). She didn’t mind, but made it clear to say it wasn’t an emergency. My Dad called within a matter of minutes and he had heard the news on the radio before.
It was awful to see Reggie collapse in the playoffs against Charlotte and never return, followed by the devastating news of his passing on that July night. He was the guy that was supposed to carry the torch after Larry Bird. And it was the second sudden tragedy the Celtics suffered within a matter of seven years (Len Bias).
As sad as Lewis’ passing was and despite the lawsuits that followed, there are so many positives to look at his life. On the court, he excelled at Northeastern with a career 2,709 points. And then, during the second season of his six-year career with the Celtics, he averaged over 30 minutes a game and 18 points per game. Reggie even earned a spot on the 1992 All-Star team.
Off the court, Reggie was charitable. He related well with the Boston community taking part in youth clinics, and even held a Thanksgiving turkey drive for underprivileged families in the city. Posthumously, his legacy lives on with the Reggie Lewis Athletics Center in Roxbury and then having his jersey No. 35 being retired to the rafters at the old Boston Garden in 1995.
Reggie’s massive funeral service was held at his alma mater, Northeastern’s Matthews Arena, with over 12,000 people paying respects. And to date, that is the largest funeral service in the history of Boston. His college coach, Jim Calhoun, eulogized him. Dennis Johnson spoke, and so did Robert Parrish. After the funeral service, fans gave a final salute to the Celtics captain toward his final place of rest at Forest Hills Cemetery.
Life went on for the Celtics, as we know it took many years to rebuild. And life also went on for that Park and Rec camp in Needham that week. After Reggie passed we all made shirts writing “Lewis” and “35” on the back.
— By Mike “Sarge” Riley, 98.5 The Sports Hub
You can hear Mike “Sarge” Riley on the air on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @Sarge985.