Reggie Lewis: Source of Pride

July 29, 1993

News of Reggie Lewis' death shocked even people who never saw him play or followed his exploits on the sports pages. The former Dunbar High basketball player and captain of the vaunted Boston Celtics collapsed and died while leisurely shooting baskets on Tuesday.

His premature death at age 27, apparently from a heart abnormality, taps the kind of head-shaking dread people felt when they learned that basketball superstar Earvin "Magic" Johnson had AIDS, or that Maryland basketball All-American Len Bias had died of a drug overdose, or that runner Jim Fixx had dropped dead, or more recently, when death-defying auto racer Davey Allison perished in a helicopter crash. If these elite and extraordinarily well-conditioned athletes could succumb so young, how vulnerable are we?

Mr. Lewis' medical problems did not spring out of the blue. His health had become the source of great concern three months ago when he collapsed during a playoff game involving the Celtics. He didn't play again during that series, his team lost and ended its season. But much debate ensued after the team's physician and a group of cardiologists concluded that the player suffered from a potentially fatal heart condition, while another respected cardiologist concluded that Mr. Lewis could play again with medication.

One need not be 6 feet, 7 inches in height or a professional basketball player to put oneself in Mr. Lewis' shoes. Anyone who has ever had a serious health scare understands that medicine is often a world of vastly different diagnoses, and of one's internal struggle to balance personal responsibility against the need to remain hopeful and optimistic about life.

We heard several discussions the morning after Mr. Lewis' death of people wondering whether he died the way he wanted, that is, playing basketball. We'll never know, though one finds it implausible that a man in his young life, level-headed by all accounts, with a wife who is expecting their second child, could choose this outcome.

What we do know is that Reggie Lewis, like many in the parade of stars out of the Dunbar Poets' gymnasium in East Baltimore, has been a source of pride for this region. We join with the rest of the community in mourning his death.

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