As an avid Celtics fan, I am continuing to learn more and more about their history as I follow basketball more closely. The tragedy of Reggie Lewis is such an interesting what-if scenario, especially based on the timing of it. The Celtics dynasty of the 1980s had already taken a huge blow with the shocking death of Len Bias just days after he was drafted in 1986. Despite that, the Celtics still went on to reach the NBA Finals in 1987. In that year’s draft, the Celtics took Lewis out of Northeastern University with the 22nd overall pick.
Reggie Lewis played in the shadows of the Celtics Hall of Fame Big 3, Bird, Parish, and McHale, for his early years in the NBA. By the 1990s, with the Big 3 reaching the tail end of their careers, Lewis emerged as an all-star player. One of his most famous games was in 1991, when he went up against Michael Jordan, in his prime and on his way to his 5th consecutive scoring title and first championship, and blocked him four times in a double overtime win. Jordan said: “His length confused me. Every time I thought I had him beat, he’d recover and get up on me. When you have the skills to break someone down on defense and you can’t, it makes you tentative offensively.” In the 1992 Eastern Conference Finals, Larry Bird was out with a back injury, and Lewis took over scoring 36 points in Game 3 and 42 points in Game 4.
In the 1993 playoffs during a game against the Charlotte Hornets, Lewis all of a sudden collapsed to the ground running up the floor. He would leave the game with dizziness and shortness of breath, and as it turned out that would be the last game of his career. That July, Lewis went to shoot baskets with a friend at Brandeis University. After about an hour, Lewis collapsed to the ground and was pronounced dead a couple of hours later, sending shock waves through the Celtics organization and the basketball world. “By the time he died, he was one of six players who, from 1988-93, posted at least 7,500 points, 1,500 rebounds, 1,000 assists and 500 steals. The other five — Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and Chris Mullin — are all Hall of Famers. (source below)” The Celtics would be terrible for the remainder of the decade and late into the 2000s, and one can only wonder what the career of Reggie Lewis could have been if not for that tragedy 20 years ago.
(Shout out to Chris Anderson for sending me the link)
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