Reggie Lewis, 1965-1993
Muggsy Bogues reflects on his friend’s tragic death.
Eighteen years ago today, Reggie Lewis’ heart gave out on him at the all-too-young age of 27.
An NBA veteran of six seasons and one All-Star game at the time of his death, Lewis, a former No. 22 overall pick by the Boston Celtics, was on the cusp of entering the best years of his career—and life. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.
Lewis, who first collapsed during his final NBA game—a first round Playoff game against the Charlotte Hornets—fell to the floor while playing offseason basketball at Brandeis University and never recovered. His passing was later attributed to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, one of the leading causes of sudden deaths among young athletes.
A star who was just beginning to fully shine, Lewis’ career numbers are locked at 17.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 1.3 spg for all of eternity, never to be bloated by a peak season, nor shrunk by a twilight one.
Life overlooked, death oversimplified, we could write thousands of more words on Lewis. Instead, we’ll let Muggsy Bogues, a lifelong friend, high school teammate (Dunbar High) and eye witness to Lewis’ first collapse, tell you.
We spoke with Bogues—an always congenial man who nearly broke down when discussing his friend—late last year for a different purpose and have yet to publish his words about Reggie Lewis. Now is the perfect time to do so.
Reggie may be gone, but 18 years later, his memory lives on.
SLAM: Three guys from your high school team at Dunbar were all taken in the same Draft (Bogues, Lewis and Reggie Williams). That’s pretty special.
Muggsy Bogues: Yeah, from the same high school in ’87. David [Wingate] was a year ahead of us. But those are the things that kind of stand out. It was sad, when we played in the ’93 Playoffs and I had to see one of my good friends [Reggie Lewis] fall and collapse out while we were playing. And me and David [Wingate] just happened to be on the court that same time.
SLAM: Man, his passing was so hard on everybody. I can only imagine how difficult it must’ve been for you.
MB: Words can’t describe the pain. Reg was such a great friend of ours, such a great person, so humble, and he was just starting to reach his stardom. That was his team, the Boston Celtics. The Big Three (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish), had passed the torch down to him and that was something that he felt so grateful for, so respected, because he respected those guys and he earned their respect—it wasn’t something that they just gave him, he earned it. He’s always been that type of humble guy. Even though he was the sixth man on a high school team, you know Reg could start on anybody’s team, but he was able to accept that role to allow us to do what we was able to do—to win the national championship two years in a row. And he always had been that way, and that’s one of the reasons why he was able to put Boston on his shoulders and able to do the things he was able to do and get the respect from the Big Three, as he called it. So now I know he’s smiling up there, watching over his kids, just wishing everybody can continue to keep doing what their supposed to do, because that’s what he would want us to do.
SLAM: It must’ve been so hard for you to get beyond his passing on a certain level.
MB: Yeah, you never get over it. What I do—I celebrate their lives. Because he’s in a much better place right now, and I know if he could he would say to me, ‘Muggs, I don’t wanna come back. I’m happy where I’m at, but I’m waiting on you! We got the door open, and we’re waiting on you. When it’s your time, we’ll be right here with open arms.’ And those are the things that you go through. You see life; you see death. That’s just what it is. You just gotta appreciate the time that you’re here.