R. Lewis' friend denies reports of cocaine use

March 22, 1995|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

Derrick Lewis yesterday denied telling two newspapers that former Boston Celtics and Dunbar High basketball standout Reggie Lewis was a cocaine user, saying his statements were exaggerated and taken out of context.

A nervous Lewis, often burying his head in his hands while speaking, did say that Reggie Lewis had told him he tested positive for cocaine in 1987 while at Northeastern. Reggie Lewis reportedly was retested several days later, and tested negative.

Reggie Lewis was captain of the Celtics when he collapsed and died of a heart ailment while shooting baskets in July 1993. The Celtics will retire his number tonight at halftime of a game with the Chicago Bulls.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Derrick Lewis said Reggie Lewis had used cocaine. Yesterday, the Boston Globe quoted Derrick Lewis as saying that Reggie Lewis and Len Bias used cocaine together.

But Derrick Lewis, no relation to Reggie Lewis but a former high school and college teammate, stood by his previous statements to The Sun that he never had seen his close friend use drugs.

Derrick Lewis has been in seclusion since Saturday in a Baltimore hotel.

"So many accusations, so many rumors. I have to clear things up," said Lewis. "I felt pressure from the media to say some things because I feared they were going to make me the supplier, like Brian Tribble in the Len Bias case, if indeed they TC found out Reggie died of cocaine.

"People now think I sold Reggie out, that I'm trying to make money off him," said Lewis. "No one has ever paid me a cent. Nothing. What I was trying to do was clear my name, set the record straight. But some statements that were made off the record were printed, and they are lies."

In yesterday's Globe, Lewis is quoted as recounting an incident that occurred in 1985, when Reggie Lewis and Bias were working at a summer basketball camp.

"Someone -- I ain't gonna say who -- had a half gram of cocaine," Lewis says in the Globe. "We went into the McDonald's. It was real late, so nobody was there. Len went into the bathroom, took a toot, then me, then Reggie, then the next guy. We'd make sure nobody was coming. Then we went and had a couple of beers at another place and got real toasted. Then we went home. After that, we never talked about it."

Bias, the Celtics' No. 1 draft pick out of Maryland in 1986, died of a cocaine overdose the day after he was drafted.

An account of the drug use was also in the Journal, but that report said Derrick Lewis took some of the cocaine in the bathroom and he only assumed his three companions did, even though he did not see them.

Derrick Lewis denied that he has said he saw Reggie Lewis use cocaine on subsequent occasions.

"There is a difference between assuming and actually seeing," said Lewis. "I told both papers it was an assumption, and the next day I read that they say I saw Reggie use cocaine. What happened is that they kept saying they had evidence Reggie and I were big coke users. When I told them no, they kept pressing me.

"Finally, I got to the point where I said, 'Hey, Reggie has been dead for two years. Maybe he did use cocaine, maybe he didn't. And if he did, it was experimental, so what's the big deal?' They took that as a confession trying to implicate us. It's just them trying to smear his name."

Derrick Lewis said he was with Reggie Lewis on the night of April 24, 1993, at a hotel in Greenbelt, the day before the Celtics were to play the Washington Bullets and five days before the Celtics star fainted during a playoff game.

But he said there was no drug use that night by either him or Reggie Lewis, as reported in the Journal and Globe.

"They asked me what we had to drink, and I said rum and Coke," said Lewis. "Then they keep asking me, 'What kind of coke?' It just got to the point where I think they were going to print whatever they wanted to print, and they were going to try to manipulate me as much as possible."

Lewis said he has been in contact during the last couple of days with a number of friends from his East Baltimore neighborhood where he grew up.

"Derrick may be changing his story because he is hurting now," said Nate Carter, a childhood friend of Derrick and Reggie Lewis. "He doesn't have anybody."

Derrick Lewis said he also has heard speculation that he is lying about Reggie Lewis for money. Lewis said he may never be able to return home, and might have to move out of state.

"It's getting around that I want to sell my story to 'Inside Edition' or 'Current Affair' or whatever," said Lewis. "That is not true, and I want to make my friends aware of that. If I had gotten paid $20,000 or $30,000, do you think I would be sitting here in this hotel? I'd be in the Bahamas somewhere.

"Do you think I would want to put my family through this? My mother has been devastated," said Lewis. "I wish I could turn back the hands of time, but I can't."

Some former teammates and grade school friends of Reggie and Derrick Lewis have expressed outrage at Derrick Lewis' alleged comments.

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