by Duane Watson / @byDuaneWatson
Twenty years ago, Boston Celtics forward Reggie Lewis passed away, playing the game that he loved. Far from a storybook ending, the Baltimore native died of heart failure at the age of 27, only six seasons in to what was the making of a Hall of Fame career. Many recall his stellar collegiate years at Northeastern University under coach Jim Calhoun, or when he succeeded Larry Bird as captain on the Celtics, but most remember his untimely death.
In Remembering Reggie, the documentary revisits his life as a man and an athlete, through interviews with family, teammates and those that knew him best. Most importantly, the film doesn’t shy away from the circumstances and controversy, surrounding his death. Remembering Reggie jogs the memory on some things that were forgotten, enlightens with new information and concisely celebrates the life of a star in the making.
November 21 would have been Lewis’ 48 birthday. Remembering Reggie originally aired July 28, on Comcast New England. In honor of his birthday, they are re-airing the film on Sunday, November 24 at 2:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. EST. SLAM spoke with director/producer Torey Champagne about Lewis’ legacy and the film.
SLAM: Can you go through the process of Remembering Reggie, from inception to production?
Torey Champagne: At Comcast we had started to formulate some ideas around what we do every year; we try to do one major thing. Me being from the Central Mass, Boston area, it was coming up that it was going to be the anniversary of Reggie Lewis’ death. We had it on our radar and as we approached 2013, we had a meeting and basically all got on the same page and said let’s see if we can make this happen. So then it was put in my hands to see if we could solidify a film, and as I started reaching out to people it, it sounded like people were interested in talking and getting together. So by January of 2013 we made a decision and I think I started rolling cameras on the first interview, it was with Muggsy Bogues that March. It was pretty quick once we decided to go do it.
SLAM: It’s ironic that Muggsy Bogues was your first interview as his provided such a broader context and was quite emotional.
TC: I kind of purposely felt like I should try talk to somebody like that first. The Celtic players were right in our backyard; we have a good relationship with them being the home of the Celtics at Comcast. So I wanted to go off the radar and felt if I talked to Muggsy first, then I would get a really good perspective of the way things were for Reggie in East Baltimore, and that it would open other doors. It definitely did, it was very emotional and Muggsy was incredibly gracious spending as much time as he did talking, and it was really incredible. For me personally, when I was a kid growing up and becoming a fan of the NBA, Muggsy was one of my favorites. I think every kid that was 13 was like, “He’s 5-3, that’s amazing!” It was really cool to kind of get to know him and talk to him about Reggie.
SLAM: Were you a Celtics fan growing up?
TC: For sure, I was totally a Celtics fan. I can remember watching the Larry Bird championship years with my father and I was like a real little kid, 7, 8 years old. The Celtics were always on in my house, and even during that time period when Reggie was with the team and when he passed away, Celtics basketball was always on in our house.
SLAM: Remembering Reggie only aired in New England, correct?
TC: It was developed and everything was done by Comcast Sportsnet New England and that’s’ the only place it aired, the honest reason was because of footage rights. We had to handle an outpouring of complaints from people all over the country. We felt really bad, but at the same time it was a huge compliment that people were calling and saying they really want to see this film. It was kind of like a double-edged sword, but it was specifically for the New England market. I don’t think it was about the film per se, but I think it was about the fact that Reggie Lewis was a really special player. (Note: You can view the film if you look really hard on the internet.)
SLAM: What was your biggest challenge in making this film?
TC: I had two big challenges, one would be the fact that there was so much history and so much depth to the complications surrounding Reggie’s death, to try to tell that honestly and fairly to all parties was probably one of the most difficult things I had to deal with. Because I wanted to make sure I was journalistically and factually accurate, but I also wanted to make sure I got as many voices of the people that were involved to tell their side. So to have Jan Volk and to have Ron Suskind both in the film and the two have two polar opposite sides of what set off that fire in the media, was really important to me.
The other aspect of it was Donna Harris-Lewis declined numerous attempts to be a part of the film. In all honesty, out of respect for Donna the biggest thing that I wanted to put on my shoulders, especially after meeting Reggie’s mother was to pay tribute and to pay the Lewis family tribute. I didn’t want it to turn into a witch-hunt about Donna. There might be things about Donna that people don’t understand or agree with and there’s obviously some tension in the family that still exists today, but I wanted to make sure I did it as respectfully as I could. Because at the end of the day the film is about Reggie and that’s his wife, this isn’t about trying to take somebody down or make drama for the sake of drama, its about telling the truth.
SLAM: What do you feel made Reggie so special on the court and off the court?
TC: I think the thing that made him special off the court is he exemplified what you would want your superstar athlete to be. He was an underdog; he had to fight for every inch that he ever got, being from East Baltimore. Overcoming the adversity of going to a smaller school, becoming a superstar there, then getting drafted and having to play behind Larry Bird. Who has to do that, you know? That, in and of itself, is a challenge.
But he always maintained that persona in the Boston community that he was accessible, that he was light-hearted, and he was always smiling. All of these things sound so cliché, I can say from everybody we talked to and watching all the behind-the-scenes footage that have was in our archives, he was just a genuinely nice man who actually cared. You talk to people in Dorchester and Roxbury, they will tell you Reggie used to walk to the corner store, he would walk with the kids in the neighborhood. You’re not going to find many NBA players today, just walk through the hood in Dorchester and West Roxbury.
The on-the-court thing for me was, I always talked about the pull through. Swinging the ball low in front of somebody and then just completely shaking them off, almost like a running back would coming up to the line of scrimmage. He just had that ability, just slow and silky and smooth to be able to blow by his opponent, and they didn’t even know it was going on. The fact that Michael Jordan had so much respect for him, a player that had the best first step and was a great defender. I think people talk about Kevin Durant today, the same way they talked about Reggie Lewis back then.
SLAM: Do you think Reggie’s death could have been prevented?
TC: I would like to say yes, but ultimately the decision fell on Reggie. He took his life into his own hands—he knew what was going on, doctors had told him numerous times. I guess the only thing I can say is, I know for a fact that the Celtics, when talking to Jan Volk they supported him and did everything they could within their capacity. I would think that maybe the guidelines that are in place that the NBA has now to protect their athletes from themselves; if those laws were in place back in 1992 and ’93, then maybe Reggie wouldn’t have gone as long as he did without treatment.
Photos courtesy of Torey Champagne.