On the verge of having Larry Bird pass him the torch to become the next leader of the Celtics, Reggie Lewis’s career and his life came to a tragic and abrupt end.
In an article for espn.com, Jackie MacMullan discusses a game during the 1991 season, where Lewis went head-to-head with Michael Jordan and got the better of the games greatest player.
Lewis blocked Jordan four times and forced him into a 12-36 shooting night.
Here is video of those four blocks as well as Lewis nailing the game tying three, with 19 seconds left in the game to send it to overtime. As MacMullan notes, it was the only three-pointer that Lewis attempted that night.
You may want to skip ahead to the 37 second mark and I apologize in advance for the grainy quality of the video.
He had an explosive first-step, a lethal, praying mantis jumper and used his long arms and athleticism to punish even his greatest defensive assignment. Combine that with his calm demeanor and a confidence that never wavered and you had a player who was on his way to becoming a perennial all-star and likely, a hall of famer.
In the midst of heart problems that had some doctors telling Lewis to retire from basketball, he looked to the same relentless effort that was used to harass opponents defensively, to find a doctor who would clear him to play.
He was advised not to exercise strenuously and while shooting jumpers and getting in a light workout at Brandeis University during the 1993 offseason, Lewis collapsed to the floor.
He was pronounced dead two-hours later.
At the time of his death, Lewis 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 fact that he averaged just 8.3 minutes per game his rookie season – via MacMullan – makes it all the more impressive.
The other five players who join him on that list include some of the games elite, including the man whom he got the better of on that March night in 1991. It reads as follows, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler and Chris Mullin. All are Hall of Famers.
At the time of his passing, Lewis was just 27 years old. He had a profound impact on kids all across the inner cities of Boston and in his hometown in Baltimore.
On the court, despite all that he had already accomplished, he was about to enter his prime. Leaving many to wonder, what could have been.