Tailgate Throwbacks: Remembering Reggie LewisAugust 3, 2018
The NBA of the 90s was probably the most important decade for the league, because of its global growth and rise in popularity. There were many factors that lead to this growth, but one factor was the level of competition – stars were spread throughout the league. One budding star that is overlooked by many is Reggie Lewis. Lewis’s career is one filled with superstar potential, yet ended tragically when he died mid-career.
Today we will examine Lewis’s career and the potential of Number 35. Reggie Lewis was drafted 22nd overall by the Boston Celtics in the 1987 NBA Draft. At 6’7 and weighing only 195 pounds, Lewis had the versatility to play either shooting guard or small forward. Lewis had dominated at Northeastern University, yet the level of competition he played in college was frequently called into questioned. Lewis’s first season was mostly spent riding the bench, as the Celtics trio of Bird, McHale, and Parish looked for another title. However, Reggie’s role would increase as the aging and injured Bird would only play 6 games the following season.
In Lewis’s second season, he would average 18.5 points, scoring mostly from the midrange and around the rim. Lewis would also start over half of the games that season, showing that he belonged in the league. The following season, Larry Bird played in 75 games and although that lead to less minutes for Lewis, he still found a way to be an effective scorer. Reggie’s first 3 seasons in the league had displayed his talent and knack for scoring, but that is not what makes a star. A star has to be a person who can lead a team and that is the opportunity Lewis would receive in the next 3 seasons.
In the 1990-1991 season, Lewis started 79 games for the Celtics, more than both Bird and McHale. He also had the most total points scored on the team. Even though McHale, Bird, and Parish were still on the scene, it was evident that the torch was being passed on to Lewis. A sign of this came in Game 1 of the First Round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, when the Celtics faced the Indiana Pacers. Lewis put on a shooting clinic, going 10 for 19 and scoring 28 points. The Celtics would move pass the Pacers in 5 games and, even though they would eventually lose to the Pistons in 6 games, Lewis led the team in scoring.
The next season Lewis would start all 82 games, be selected to the All-Star game, and lead the Celtics in scoring. While, Lewis’s stats do not amaze the eye, they do not tell the whole story. Reggie could have easily averaged 27 points per game, but Reggie was an unselfish player. He was not going to jack up 25-30 shots to just improve his stats. All he cared about was winning. That season, Lewis lead the Celtics to the second overall seed and displayed his dominance that postseason. Against the Pacers, Lewis dropped 36, 15, and 32 points to eliminate them in 3 games. The following matchup was against the Cavaliers and Lewis continued to dominate the opponent. In Game 3, Lewis scored 36 points on 53% shooting. Even more impressive, in Game 4, Lewis scored 42 points on 57% shooting. The Celtics would lose the series in 7 games, but Lewis’s effective and efficient scoring shined as a bright spot for the future.
What would end up being Lewis’s last season, the 1992-1993 season was capitalized by the new era of the Celtics. Larry Bird had just retired, so Lewis was now the leader of the team. Not being named to the All-Star game may have seemed as a step-back, but Lewis could have easily been an All-Star had he taken more than the 17.6 shots he took.
Lewis and the Celtics returned to the Playoffs, however it did not go as hoped. In the first game of the series, Lewis collapsed after scoring 10 points in 3 minutes. He was allowed back into the game but only ended up playing 13 minutes and scoring 17 points. Lewis did not play another game the rest of the series and the Celtics lost in 4 games to Hornets. That off-season, Lewis collapsed in a gym and died, just 2 months after the Hornets game.
The Celtic franchise was rocked, similar to the impact of Len Bias’ death in 1986. Suddenly, instead of a team on the rise with a promising young star, the Celtics were thrown into uncertainty and a rebuild mode that would last almost a decade. What could have been with the Celtics team is tough to gauge. Reggie Lewis was just scratching the surface of what his game had to offer and he could have been a member of the Hall of Fame. The Celtics definitely would not have gone through the difficult stages of the Rick Pitino era and an in-prime Reggie Lewis would have probably lead the Celtics to multiple playoff appearances and perhaps even the Finals.
Reggie Lewis passed away 25 years ago last Friday.
Written by Matthew Lippe