Celtics pay respects with silence Controversy can wait as club and its city mourn fallen Lewis

July 29, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer Staff writer Jerry Bembry contributed to this article.

BOSTON -- The first meeting between Boston Celtics officials and Donna Harris-Lewis since the death of her husband, Celtics captain and former Dunbar star Reggie Lewis, is expected to take place here this morning.

Lewis, 27, died Tuesday after suffering complete cardiac arrest while shooting baskets at the team's practice facility at nearby Brandeis University. Lewis' death came nearly three months after he collapsed during a playoff game.

After a meeting yesterday that was attended by high-ranking team officials as well as Celtics guard Dee Brown, general manager Jan Volk said through a team spokesman that no public statements would be made for at least another 24 hours out of respect for the Lewis family.

Celtics executive vice president Dave Gavitt indicated late yesterday that the team was going to follow the wishes of Donna Harris-Lewis, who remained in seclusion at her home in Dedham. "We are going to wait for the family to handle the arrangements," a distraught Gavitt said as he left the team's offices.

Said former Celtics player M. L. Carr, who now works in the team's community relations department, "We should throw our arms around Donna and the family being that was the way Reggie was with everyone here."

There are still many unanswered questions regarding the death of Lewis, who became one of this city's most popular athletes during his 11 years as a player, first at Northeastern University and for the past seven years with the Celtics. There is also the lingering controversy as to whether his death was preventable.

But while the questions have yet to be answered, and the controversy is far from quieting, the only certainty was how beloved the Baltimore native had become in his adopted hometown. Not only for the wondrous things he did in a basketball uniform, but for the genuine things he did off the court and away from the spotlight.

Lewis' last official act as captain -- a position he inherited last season following the retirement of Celtics legend Larry Bird -- was to represent the team at the funeral for former teammate Brian Shaw's parents and sister, who were killed in an automobile accident last month.

"The legacy of Reggie Lewis was that he made life a little better for everyone in this city," said Carr, who was known for having similar traits during his career here. "Let it remain that way, not only in a time of sorrow, but for a long time to come."

In a prepared statement, NBA commissioner David Stern said: "The Boston Celtics and the NBA have lost a talented member of our family. Reggie proved his love for the game of basketball, always striving for and achieving the highest levels of play. Away from the court he was an outstanding young man who always made the NBA, the Celtics and the city of Boston proud to be associated with him. The entire NBA joins me in extending its heartfelt sympathies to Reggie's family."

Lewis' former agent, Andrew Brandt, now a professor at American University and Catholic University, said he wasn't like most athletes. "As an agent I always got calls from players who complained about playing time and felt they were better than someone else," Brandt said. "I never heard that from Reggie. He knew [former coach] K. C. Jones didn't like playing younger players, so he just waited for his turn. He had a quiet confidence, and that was very attractive about him.

"Arthur Ashe and Reggie were two of my clients, and they were two of the best people I ever worked with. You just wonder why the best people are taken away."

Although many of Lewis' charitable acts received a great deal of publicity -- such as handing out 500 turkeys at Thanksgiving the past three years, or visiting sick children at hospitals -- there were countless acts of giving for which he did not receive, or seek, any attention.

During the 20 continuous hours that WEEI, the Celtics-owned local all-sports radio station, devoted to discussing Lewis' death, fans and non-fans alike called in to share their grief and their love for No. 35. Even former mayor Ray Flynn called from Rome early yesterday morning after learning of Lewis' death.

One of the more touching calls came from a woman who called in yesterday afternoon to talk about what Lewis had done for her daughter.

"My little girl wasn't doing too well in school," she said. "But one day Reggie showed up at her after-school center and took her under his wing. He might have been a big star to everyone else, but to her he was just Reggie. He might have saved her life."

While the airwaves were filled with talk about Lewis, the sports merchandising shops near Boston Garden were inundated with requests for autographed pictures, jerseys and other memorabilia.

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