Streets fill as Lewis is honored at service

Streets fill as Lewis is honored at service
July 26, 2013, 2:45 pm
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While at Northeastern, Reggie Lewis developed into one of the best college basketball players in the country.

(AP Photo)

BOSTON - Lines of cars and even longer lines of people filled the streets near Northeastern's Matthews Arena through Dorchester and on to Reggie Lewis' final destination - Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain.

"It was a major, major deal," said longtime Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan.

Lewis, the face of the Boston Celtics franchise at the time, died on July 27, 1993 during a pick-up basketball game at Brandeis University because of a heart ailment.

The 27-year-old's death rocked a franchise that was still reeling from the cocaine overdose death of Len Bias which came just two days after the C's drafted him with the second overall pick in 1986.

And while Lewis' death certificate makes no mention of his death being in any way drug-related, a Wall Street Journal article two years later strongly alluded to Lewis' death being due to cocaine use as a slew of doctors offered up varying results after a battery of heart-related tests.

"This was a tragic story, plain and simple," said Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who wrote the WSJ story. "He (Lewis) was an extraordinary guy who died, that probably shouldn't have."

Lewis' family and friends quickly rushed to his defense.

"Everybody that knew Reggie Lewis, knew that he wouldn't' even remotely be around anything that dealt with drugs," Bogues said.

Said former Celtics team doctor Arnold Scheller (1987-2005): "Reggie, at no time from the time I saw him, did that (cocaine use) register as an issue while he was a Celtic."

Despite the rumors surrounding his death even before the WSJ article, it had no bearing on the thousands of folks who were more interested in remembering him as a loving father, a great teammate, a friend who connected with the community in a way few athletes are able to do, so quickly.

A memorial service for Lewis was held at Matthews Arena, the same floor that he spent four years leading the Huskies from being a solid mid-major school into a perennial NCAA tournament team.

His death attracted national attention, from elected officials to the likes of Rev. Jesse Jackson who wanted to address those at Matthews Arena paying their respects to Lewis, but was denied.

"Not because anything against Rev. Jackson," said Lewis' coach at Northeastern, Jim Calhoun. "They just wanted the family to speak."

Among the more memorable speeches was one from Lewis' brother, Irvin Lewis Jr.

"I just want to say 'Reg-gie, Reg-gie, Reg-gie,' for the last time," said Irvin Jr., being held up at the time by his brother, Terry Lewis.

Looking towards the sky, Irvin Jr. adds, "Man you hear me! Reggie? I love you man."

Calhoun, who went on to win three national titles at UConn, had given eulogies before.But this one was different and in so many ways, more difficult than any he had ever been asked to do.

'It was the hardest speech I've ever given," Calhoun admitted. "But this... this was one of my children, leaving. I'm supposed to leave before him. This was someone who got to the apex of his career."

Lewis, a sixth man standout at Baltimore's Dunbar High School which won a pair of national titles (1982 and 1983) during his time there, finished his career as Northeastern's all-time leading scorer (2,709 points) before becoming a first-round pick of the Celtics in 1987.

"I may coach another great player," Calhoun said during Lewis' memorial service at Matthews Arena. "But I will never have another Reggie. Reggie, you will live within my heart forever. You will live on through Donna (Lewis' wife) and your children (Reggie Jr. and Reggiena) and we shall never ever forget him because he left us so much. Thanks Reg. I love you."

The admiration for Lewis continued throughout the day as onlookers of every shape, size and color, watched from sidewalks with signs and jerseys and tear-stained shirts, all in remembrance of Lewis.

"It had a unifying effect on the city," Calhoun said. "There was love that day; love for Reggie Lewis. That day, went out to the cemetery, one of the more amazing things to me was looking out at the white, black, incredible diversity in the city of Boston, to honor Reggie Lewis. I will never ever forget that."

Hip Hop/R&B artist Michael Bivins (Bell Biv Devoe) who is from Roxbury, also recognized the impact of Lewis' death bringing so many people from so many different walks of life, together at a time of mourning.

"At one point, nobody cared what color anybody was," Bivins said. "It was the Celtics. The only color we cared about was green and white, and I think that's what Reggie represented, green and white."