'He was . . . a beautiful person' REGGIE LEWIS: 1965-1993 Family, friends, fans pay final respects at Celtics star's funeral

August 03, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

BOSTON -- They came from as far away as Australia, and from as nearby as the neighborhoods surrounding Northeastern University. They waited in the early-morning heat, some for more than five hours, then filled sweltering Matthews Arena with their love and admiration for Reggie Lewis.

In the old gymnasium where he built his reputation and where his uniform number has hung from the rafters for four years, about 6,000 fans, friends, relatives and teammates paid their respects to the late Boston Celtics captain and the most famous sixth man in Dunbar High School history. An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 attended the viewing.

It was an emotional funeral service mixed with tears and laughter for Lewis, who died a week ago today at age 27 of cardiac arrest after shooting baskets at the Celtics' practice facility at Brandeis University. The service, which lasted nearly two hours, was preceded by a public viewing of Lewis, who was buried later in a private ceremony.

"He was Superman on the basketball court and Clark Kent off it," said Northeastern University president John Curry, the first of more than a dozen to eulogize Lewis. "[He was] a young man who cared about other people. . . . He was, quite simply, a beautiful person."

Earlier in the day, Curry had announced that Reggie Lewis and Donna Harris-Lewis' children -- 10-month old Reginald Jr. and one expected early next year -- will be guaranteed full scholarships to Northeastern, where the couple met.

The tributes were similar to those that have been made since Lewis' death last week, three months after he collapsed during a first-round playoff game against the Charlotte Hornets at the Boston Garden. First found to have a life-threatening heart ailment, Lewis later was told that he was suffering from a less-serious neurological condition that would allow him to continue his six-year NBA career.

But a third opinion, reached by a group of heart specialists in Southern California in late June, said that Lewis had structural damage in his heart that further clouded his future. He was scheduled to undergo a stress test under competitive conditions and monitored by his Boston cardiologist, Dr. Gilbert Mudge, this week in Baltimore. Instead, there will be a memorial service Thursday in his hometown.

Yesterday was supposed to be only for the happy memories from Lewis' life, not for the controversy that surrounds his death. Yet some of the controversy found its way into remarks made by two of Lewis' closest friends. Mostly, though, those who shared their thoughts talked about a quiet man who was atypical for a pro athlete.

"Reggie was about simple things," recalled one of his former college coaches, Jim Calhoun, who left Northeastern for Connecticut before Lewis' senior year. "Wit, that special, special smile, the special comfort he gave others. I may coach another great player, the Celtics will have another captain, the NBA will have other great players, but we'll never have another Reggie. We'll never forget him."

Fighting through tears, Calhoun looked to the open casket and said, "Thanks, Reggie. I love you."

Later on, former Dunbar and South Carolina star Terry Dozier recalled how he, his twin brother, Perry, and their favorite cousin grew up together in Baltimore. Terry Dozier, with his brother crying on his shoulder and several former Poets looking on, said that "everyone knew we were inseparable, like Siamese triplets."

Terry Dozier, who now is playing professional basketball in Australia and flew home last week after hearing the news, said the three were never far apart.

"It was, 'You see Terry? He's with Perry. You see Perry? He's with Reggie. You see Reggie? He's with Terry and Perry.' We were the three horsemen who roamed the streets of Baltimore. When Perry stopped playing, I was playing for two. Now, I'm playing for three."

Said Perry Dozier: "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be the man I am now. Reggie was a complete man. I'm still trying to get there. When I was at South Carolina, I'd tell people about Reggie and they'd say, 'Who's Reggie?' "

Then Perry Dozier cried and said, "Guess everyone knows who Reggie is now," and embraced his brother as they walked off the stage.

"Reggie is in God's garden now," said Irvin Lewis Jr., who implored those in the arena to chant his brother's first name.

While many have talked about Lewis' shy but welcoming smile, Jerome Stanley spoke about something that just as many others felt -- Lewis' generosity. He reached out to the homeless, to whom he gave turkeys at Thanksgiving, and to sick children, whom he visited without much notice and little, if any, fanfare.

"What made Reggie superior to us was what eventually cost him his life -- his heart," said Stanley, a Los Angeles attorney who recently was rehired to represent Lewis. "His heart made him so special. His heart is where he stored his pride and his character. He gave tens and hundreds and thousands of kids in Boston and Baltimore a chance because he showed he cared."

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