Lewis made lasting impact in years with Celtics

Lewis made lasting impact in years with Celtics
July 25, 2013, 9:30 am
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Reggie Lewis was taken by the Celtics with the 22nd pick in the 1987 draft, the official start to what felt like another promising NBA career in Boston.

(AP Photo)

BOSTON — Reggie Lewis' NBA career lasted six seasons, which is about the length of the average NBA career.

But this career ended much too soon even if he did have have jersey number 35 retired.

"He was well on the verge of being the upper echelon of players in the NBA, being a perennial all-star," Celtics legend Tommy Heinsohn told Comcast SportsNet for the documentary, "Remember Reggie."

Heinsohn added, "This (Lewis' jersey being retired) was kind of recognition of a basketball star who was cheated out of his basketball destiny."

ROOKIE SEASON

Lewis' rookie season was one in which, like most first-year players on veteran teams, was one in which Lewis didn't see much playing time.

He appeared in 49 games while averaging 4.5 points and 1.3 rebounds in 8.3 minutes per game.

Although he saw limited action, it became clear to most that it was a matter of when - not if - Lewis would emerge as an important cog in the Green Machine.

Lewis' potential was apparent to many, including then-team president Red Auerbach.

"We've watched him quite a bit, not only because he's local," the late Red Auerbach said moments after the Celtics choose Lewis with the No. 22 pick in the 1987 NBA draft. "He can play the big guard; he knows where the hoop is. He drives very well towards the basket. He gives us a dimension that we need in case Danny Ainge or Dennis Johnson gets hurt. We got another big guard."

But as fans would soon discover, the expectations for Lewis only told part of the story as to the kind of impact he could make on games.

BIRD: LEWIS 'A LOT BETTER THAN I ANTICIPATED'

It didn't take long for Lewis to earn the respect of his teammates.

And he did it by simply letting his game speak for him, similar to how he found success in high school and later at Northeastern.

"He can run; he handles the ball a lot better than I anticipated," said Larry Bird. "He can jump. He's tough."

Said Mike Gorman, Celtics play-by-play announcer for Comcast SportsNet: "It was clear to all of us that this wasn't just drafting the local kid who played at Northeastern. This was drafting a player who had a chance to be a leader for a long time."

LEWIS CAREER CLIMAXES, COMES TO UNTIMELY END

As Bird's time with the Celtics drew to a close, Lewis' star continued to ascend while climaxing in his selection to the 1993 All-Star Game.

One of Lewis' early breakout performances came during the 1988-1989 season when Larry Bird was out with a heel injury.

In his first NBA start, Lewis tossed in 33 points on an array of mid and long-range shots, not to mention a willingness to attack the rim and finish.

Many recall him blocking Michael Jordan's shot four times in one game that established him as an upper-echelon defender.

"He wasn't afraid of him," Gorman said. "He went at Michael Jordan like he was just some other guy coming down the street."

Longtime Celtics beat writer and columnist with the Boston Globe, Jackie MacMullan said, "Reggie kind of snuck up on all of us, honestly."

Watching Lewis play was an up close and personal study on the Jekyl-and-Hyde like personality players have on and off the court.

"His personality on the court was a lot different than his personality off the court," Gorman said. "Off the court, he was very mild, almost shy. On the court, he was an extremely aggressive player."

And to see that talent taken away following an untimely death 20 years ago, still resonates as one of the great losses the Celtics family has ever suffered.

On March 22, 1995, the Celtics retired Lewis' jersey number 35. He became only the second player for the C's to have his jersey retired without having won an NBA title in Boston (Ed Macauley was the other, but he won a title with the St. Louis Hawks in 1958).

Several members of the Celtics family, past and present, spoke with heavy hearts in remembrance of one of their own whose career ended too soon - much too soon.

"To me, he personified everything a Celtic should be," Auerbach said.