Lewis died of cardiac arrest on July 27, 1993, during an offseason practice in Waltham, Mass. He was 27 and entering the prime of his NBA career.
The 6-foot-7 shooting guard/small forward was coming off back-to-back seasons of averaging 20.8 points. After six seasons in the league, the Celtics? 1987 first-round pick out of Northeastern (22nd overall) had amassed 7,902 points, 1,938 rebounds and 1,153 assists in 450 games — good for 17.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.
He had superstar written all over him.
In one 1991 contest against the Bulls, Lewis blocked four of Michael Jordan?s shots. Jordan still scored 37 points. But Larry Bird dropped 34, and Lewis added 25 to lead the Celtics to a 135-132 win.
Nobody will know how good Lewis could have been. He was taken much too soon, the victim of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a structural heart defect.
His death — much like the death of Len Bias in 1986 — shocked the sports world. It was another tragic blow to the Celtics. In the span of seven years, they lost two franchise players.
Imagine what Lewis and Bias could have accomplished together. How many more championships would the Celtics have won? One? Two? Three? Four? Five or more?
Boston fans can only wonder.
The Celtics retired Lewis? No. 35 after his death, one of only two Celtics players whose number has been retired without winning a championship in Boston (Ed Macauley is the other). It’s a fitting honor for Lewis — and a way to ensure his legacy is never forgotten.
A weak heart may have killed Lewis, but he had as much heart as any Celtics legend who ever stepped on the parquet.
Screen grab courtesy of Youtube.