I Was There When Reggie Lewis Collapsed at the Boston Garden
On April 29, 1993, Reggie Lewis, the All-Star Captain of the Boston Celtics, collapsed on the famed Boston Garden parquet. Though he slowly got up and walked off the court to a misguided "Phew!" from the crowd, it would be his final game in the NBA.
It also happened to be the first game I ever went to - a present for my 10th birthday.
I remember everything very clearly about that day. It was a sunny, warm, summer-like evening, and that very afternoon, crews had broken ground for a new arena now known as TD Garden, meaning they'd be staying in downtown Boston after rumored threats to bolt for New Hampshire back in the 80s.
The Celtics now had their new home and seemed to be setting themselves up for the future. There was nothing in the air to indicate tragedy would soon strike.
I can still taste the papery, watered-down Coke I drank as we watched warmups. Newly-retired Larry Bird got a standing ovation as he walked to his seat. Dad took me down to watch Cheers regular Kevin McHale go through his post-up workout with Joe Kleine.
But the story after tip-off was Reggie Lewis. We all loved Reggie, a Captain on and off the court who handed out Thanksgiving turkeys to families in need each November.
On this balmy spring evening, Reggie was everywhere. Blocking shots, making steals, hitting everything he threw up. Then, on a fast break, he just disappeared.
From our seats a few rows behind the visitors’ basket, it looked like a trap door opened up and Reggie just vanished. Only later, as he slowly stood up and made his way to the locker room, did the crowd sense something strange had occurred.
By now, everyone knows that Reggie Lewis suffered a heart attack. And after receiving, or misinterpreting, a badly misguided diagnosis, Lewis had another during a July workout that left him dead at age 27.
Sadly, we can’t control the nonsensical hot takes put out by certain sports pundits about resuming the game or other players “toughing it out.” It’s as ill-advised as the pressure Lewis seemed to get back on the court.
Now, it's even harder to control the chatter and hot takes. But we can control the way we approach a moment like this with our own children. Maybe wonder why a player is taking a night off instead of sarcastically asking out loud.
Even New Englanders don't know as much as we think we do about our sports heroes. Even though I was 10, I can still see that moment Reggie Lewis just vanished. I think about his children seeing that painful clip pop up on social media.
To brighten things a little, I switch gears to basketball what-ifs. Such as:
- Would the Celtics have been even better in 1993-94, having Dino Radja to pair with Lewis while Michael Jordan played baseball?
- Would the Celtics have signed Dominique Wilkins in 1994, or gone with Larry Bird’s first choice, Detlef Schrempf?
- Would the C’s have made a stronger play at trading for Alonzo Mourning in 1995, teaming him with Lewis to go against Jordan’s Bulls?
- Would the Celtics’ most underrated coach, the late Chris Ford, have a longer run with the team?
- What team would Celtics villain Rick Pitino have ruined if the C’s weren’t hiring?
- Would the Celtics have been an alternate-universe Indiana Pacers? After all, our Reggie was better than Hall of Famer Reggie Miller.
- And if so, would Larry Bird have stepped in to coach the Celts instead of the Pacers and won his fourth championship?
- And ...what would Reggie Lewis be doing today?
My guess: handing out turkeys to those in need on Thanksgiving and hopefully coming back to watch a game every now and then and looking up at his retired number 35 in the rafters. Just as we do today.