Once 6th man at Dunbar, Lewis emerges as the man for Celtics With Bird gone, he's new leader

November 17, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

When Baltimore native Reggie Lewis was a junior at Northeastern University in suburban Boston and making a name for himself as a big-time player in a minor college basketball conference, he visited the Boston Celtics' rookie training camp.

"I was really impressed with everything about the Celtics," Lewis said recently. "I remembered saying to myself then that hopefully I can be part of it all someday."

Boston made Lewis its No. 1 pick in 1987, and, after years of playing in Larry Bird's shadow, he has emerged as the new leader of the youth-oriented Celtics, who play the Washington Bullets at the Capital Centre tonight.

"Reggie is one of the foundations of our future," said Dave Gavitt, the Celtics senior executive vice president who was put in charge of the rebuilding job, with Red Auerbach playing a lesser role.

No one could have projected this for the youngster from East Baltimore who was the unheralded sixth man on Dunbar's mythical high school championship team in the early 1980s. Then, he took a back seat to Reggie Williams, Muggsy Bogues and David Wingate, who played for major college programs and moved on to the NBA.

And, as long as Bird remained on the scene, Lewis believed he would continue to play a similar complementary role with the Celtics.

"It was hard not to get down," he said. "I felt I could have contributed more my early years in the NBA, but guys like Dennis Johnson and Bird kept telling me, 'Wait your turn. It will come.' "

The chance came in 1988, when Bird was injured and Danny Ainge was traded to Sacramento.

Just how far he has come in five years was best illustrated by his election as captain of the Celtics, a symbolic job Bird held for the past decade before nagging back problems forced him to retire.

The two holdovers of Boston's once-unmatched front line -- Robert Parish and Kevin McHale--agreed that Lewis best represented the future of a franchise with one of sports' proudest traditions.

Lewis, who turns 27 Sunday, last season led the team in points, steals and blocks, a feat last achieved by center Dave Cowens 14 years earlier.

The 6-foot-7 swing man was also the Celtics' lone representative on the All-Star team and carried Boston in the playoffs, averaging 28 points, nearly eight more than in the regular season.

Lewis will never be the holler guy or team needler like Bird, but, by following his example, is ready to assume his leadership role.

"I want the responsibility," he said. "I'm being more vocal than I have in the past, and the team needs me to step up on the floor because Kevin and 'The Chief' [Parish] can't last forever."

Lewis, who signed a five-year contract extension in 1991 worth $16.5 million, again is leading the Celtics in scoring (21.2 ppg). But he also has gained respect for his aggressive defense. His 105 blocks were tops among NBA guards last season.

"I know what to expect from Reggie," said coach Chris Ford "Some nights, his shot might not be working. but he's always going to give us a hard night's work."

Auerbach, who took Lewis with the 22nd selection in 1987, when other teams, including the Bullets, soured on him after a disappointing showing at the Chicago pre-draft camp, takes special pride in this pick.

"The future is now for Reggie," said Auerbach. "He's already a damn good player. He reminds me a lot of [former Celtics great] John Havlicek. He's not quite there yet, but . . ."

Lewis' 1992 stats

Category.. .. .. .... .. ..No./Pct. or Avg.

Games.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..6

Minutes.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .222/37.0

Field goals.. .. .. .. .. .. ...48-103/.466

Free throws.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...2-8/.879

Points.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..127/21.2

Rebounds.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..24/4.0

Assists.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 14/2.3

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