Memory of Lewis lives in moment of silence PRO BASKETBALL

KEN ROSENTHAL

November 07, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

LANDOVER -- One by one, the Boston Celtics came over, first coach Chris Ford, then assistant coach Dennis Johnson, then Robert Parish, Dee Brown and all the rest.

"It's going to be emotional, very emotional," Reggie Lewis' mother had been saying moments earlier. "It's like I'm waiting for him to come out and join the guys."

And now, as Inez "Peggy" Ritch hugged her son's former teammates, she burst into tears.

"It's still unbelievable," Ritch said. "I'll have a thought and say, 'I just can't believe this is happening.' "I'm trying to shake it off. I'm trying to accept what has happened."

It was not possible last night.

There's no controversy now, no heated medical debates, no threats of lawsuits, no anguished, angry tears over the death of ++ Reggie Lewis last July 27.

Instead, in NBA arenas all over the country, there is silence. And polite applause. And fond memories of the Baltimore kid who became captain of the NBA's most storied franchise.

That's why Ritch came to the USAir Arena last night, came with Lewis' sister Sheron, nephew Joey, and brothers Irvin and Jon.

Ritch sparkled in a brown pinstriped suit. Irvin wore a white Reggie Lewis T-shirt over his long-sleeve shirt. Joey, 11, wore a green Celtics jersey, No. 35.

The schedule provided a poetic touch: The Celtics opened the new season at home against the New York Knicks, then faced the Bullets in the NBA arena nearest Lewis' hometown.

In Boston, the ceremony began with a 25-second moment of silence. Parish then stepped to the microphone and dedicated the season to Lewis. The fans cheered for almost a minute.

"It just shows our respect, how we felt about Reggie, every time we have a moment of silence," Parish said. "We never want to forget him. He'll always be in the back of our minds."

Indeed, a pre-game tribute to Lewis is planned in every city the Celtics visit. But the presence of Lewis' family made last night's experience even more powerful. "Definitely, we're very aware of it," Parish said.

As game time approached, a Bullets official escorted the family to a position near the Celtics' bench. Irvin shouted at Parish, "Chief! Chief!" And then the procession began.

The Celtics hugged the family members, whispered to them, comforted them. Ford greeted Joey by saying, "Hey, good looking, how you been?" It was like one big family reunion.

Irvin had a lively exchange with Parish -- "Pump it up!" Irvin said. "Bring the noise!" Everyone tried to remain composed. But Ritch cried. Sheron cried. Jon cried.

"We were going to come here anyway," Ritch said earlier, aware of the emotions she would confront. "We were definitely going to be here.

"We're going to try to make all the games that are close -- New York, Philly. And we'll be going to games in Boston, too."

Will it ever be as difficult? The Celtics returned to their bench. The house lights dimmed. The family huddled together, trying to stay strong.

As the national anthem played, Jon's deep sobs could be heard in the first few rows. Irvin was prominent in the huddle, shaking his head in disbelief.

The anthem ended, the arena went dark, and the family was led onto the court. The five of them stood in the spotlight, near the foul line in front of the Celtics' bench.

The NBA prepared a brief message to be read at every arena in honor of Lewis and the late Drazen Petrovic. The Bullets added two sentences reflecting Lewis' impact on Baltimore.

"Reggie Lewis holds a special place in all of our hearts because of his dedication to his hometown of Baltimore," the Bullets' portion said.

"Reggie worked tirelessly in his community, supporting the youth of Baltimore by personally touching the lives of many, many people."

"And now, for the last time, number 35 for the Boston Celtics, Reggie Lewis."

With that, Lewis' face appeared on the video scoreboard, under the inscription, "1965-1993."

The sellout crowd began cheering, then rose in a standing ovation. Irvin leaned over to little Joey and tugged on his green Celtics jersey.

The noise built, and Irvin could not be stopped. He pulled off his T-shirt and held it aloft for the crowd. The crowd chanted, "Reg-gie, Reg-gie."

Irvin Lewis looked toward heaven and pressed the T-shirt against his face, in triumph, in tears.

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