On this day in 1993, Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis collapses after suffering cardiac arrest while shooting baskets at Brandeis University in Boston, Massachusetts. Two hours later, Lewis was pronounced dead at Waltham-Weston Hospital.
Reggie Lewis grew up shooting baskets every day in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. He attended Dunbar High School, where he played on one of the greatest high school basketball teams in history. The team went 31-0 and won the national championship in 1983 with four future NBA stars in the line-up: David Wingate, who went on to play for Georgetown and the New York Knicks; Reggie Williams, who starred as a guard at Georgetown before being drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers; Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues, the 5-foot-3-inch standout point guard for Wake Forest and later the Washington Bullets and Charlotte Hornets; and Lewis. Lewis was the team’s sixth man and, coming out of Dunbar, was the least heralded of the four. He went on, however, to become the all-time leading scorer at Northeastern University in Boston, and was drafted by the Celtics in the first round of the 1987 NBA draft, the 22nd pick overall.
Lewis was beloved in Boston, where he developed a reputation as a humanitarian and positive role model and had the brightest NBA career of any of the Dunbar boys. In his second year with the Celtics, a team that featured future Hall of Famers Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, Lewis scored 18.5 points per game. By 1991-92, still playing alongside the Celtic legends, he upped his average to 20.8 points per game and led the Celtics in scoring. Bird then retired, and Lewis became team’s star, again averaging 20.8 points per game.
To the dismay of fans and teammates, Lewis collapsed on the court during the Celtics’ first game of the 1993 playoffs against the Charlotte Hornets and did not return to the game. A skilled team of cardiologists soon diagnosed him with a dangerous form of cardiac arrhythmia that they said had led to severe heart damage and advised him to end his basketball career. Frustrated, Lewis hired his own doctors, who assured him, incorrectly it turned out, that he could continue to play. At the time of his death, Lewis was planning to rejoin the Celtics for the upcoming 1993-94 season.
Red Auerbach, general manager of the Celtics, was said to be devastated by the death of his young star. “This was the damndest shame you ever heard of. This is a wonderful kid. My heart is broken.” The Celtics retired Lewis’ No. 35 jersey in March 1995. In the wake of Lewis’ death, his widow, Donna Harris-Lewis, began the Reggie Lewis Foundation to continue his charitable efforts in the Boston community, including an annual turkey giveaway at Thanksgiving.