Ex-Poet Bright mourns a good neighbor in Lewis REGGIE LEWIS: 1965-1993

July 29, 1993|By William C. Rhoden | William C. Rhoden,New York Times News Service

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- An hour before his East team played for the bronze medal yesterday, Donta Bright sat alone in the bleachers, listening to music through earphones and looking as though his thoughts were miles away from the arena.

During the last 24 hours, basketball, the U.S. Olympic Festival and medals had slipped several notches on Bright's list of priorities.

Tuesday evening, he was sitting in the dormitory lobby when he happened to glance at the television.

"I just saw something flash across the bottom of the screen saying, 'Boston Celtic Star Dies,' then they showed Reggie Lewis' picture," Bright recalled.

"My heart dropped. I had tears in my eyes, and I went back to my room. I just put my headphones on because I couldn't believe it. Nobody could believe it."

Bright's sorrow may have run deeper because for him, Lewis was not only a role model and mentor, but also a neighbor. They were cut from the same cloth, produced by the same East Baltimore community that has turned out loads of outstanding basketball players. They both played for Dunbar High School.

From 1981 to 1983, Lewis was a member of a Poets' team that was a national high school power. Lewis, David Wingate, Reggie Williams and Muggsy Bogues were on that team, and all made it to the NBA.

"I was 10 years old when I first start paying attention to Dunbar," said Bright, now a graceful 6-foot-6 forward for the University of Massachusetts.

"Dunbar was like a pro team, that's the way people used to treat them. I thought I could be part of that. I knew that most of the guys on Dunbar's athletic teams went to college, and I wanted to be part of that, too."

Lewis grew up five blocks from the Brights, but they never met formally until after Donta's senior year at Dunbar.

"I played in the Boston Shootout, and he came over to talk with me," Bright said. "I saw him last season, and he was talking about working out with me this summer while I was in summer school."

In fact, Bright and the other youngsters in the neighborhood were more familiar with Lewis' deeds than with Lewis.

"He was just a very positive presence in a community that was plagued by a lot of drugs, crime and all that," Bright recalled. "He delivered turkeys and food to the disadvantaged, toys to the children."

He also constructed the Reggie Lewis Basketball Court and donated sneakers to the Cecil Kirk Center, where Lewis first played basketball.

"He never forgot where he came from," Bright said. "That's why this is such a big blow to East Baltimore. Kids have one less role model in the community."

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