Reggie Lewis Back in the Fold

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July 16, 1991
Last summer, Reggie Lewis was defiant, controversial, downright confusing.

He held a press conference in the Celtics' offices to announce that if they did not pay him, he wished to leave town. Then, in a bizarre twist, he signed a lucrative contract extension four hours later.

This summer? It's like it never happened. Lewis collected his huge raise, kept his mouth shut and lived up to the promise to back up his big bucks on the court. 

He has resumed his status as the affable local-kid-done-good, and the masses flocked to UMass-Boston yesterday to watch him conduct a clinic, in conjunction with Harbor Point, for inner-city youths.

"There were a lot of things going on last summer, and I really had no idea what would happen with the contract," Lewis said. "But everything got resolved, and the fact the Celtics got it resolved so quickly really meant something to me. It meant they were serious about wanting me."

This issue of being taken seriously is an important one to Lewis. He arrived in Boston as a quiet, slender Northeastern freshman, but too many people have failed to notice he is now nearly 26.

"People have always seen me as a shy kid who doesn't say much," he said. "I think people took me for granted. But with all that's happened in the past year, that's no longer true.

"Once you move up to a different level, you have to learn to deal with more people. At the same time, there are a lot of people who would like to take advantage of you. I'm making some pretty good money now, and people have been coming at me from all angles."

The public perception has been that agent Jerome Stanley controls his affairs. Lewis waves off the suggestion.

"He doesn't have much say in what I do," he said. "I don't want someone else calling the shots with my money."

The past year has been a learning experience for Lewis, both as an athlete and a businessman. He has never been unsure about how to tackle his responsibilities as a player, though some difficult decisions were made involving endorsements and personal appearances.

Some close to the team said Lewis became more difficult and less accessible after signing his extension. One incident that led them to conclude that involved a Poland Spring advertisement that appears in the Celtics press guide each season. Lewis had been featured in the 1989-90 guide, and paid a fee. Last season, the company called and said it planned to use the same picture, and all Lewis had to do was sign on the dotted line to get his money. Lewis refused, asking for a higher fee. Poland Spring would not raise the ante, so Joe Kleine stood by the bubbler instead.

"The way I saw it, they were taking advantage of me," said Lewis. "It wasn't the money. I was a better player than the year before, and I felt they should have recognized that. They could have given me just $ 5 more and I would have been happy.

"Instead, they said, 'We'll get someone else.' So I said, 'Fine, go ahead.' "

Lewis scored later in the year with a Reebok television commercial that broadened his national visibility and lined his pockets with big-time endorsement revenue.

Meanwhile, within the playing sphere, Philadelphia's Charles Barkley declared that Lewis should have been on the All-Star team, and the entire Detroit Pistons club publicly lusted after him. He became one of the most respected offensive players in the East, despite a nagging back injury that continues to bother him.

"It still isn't 100 percent," Lewis said. "I've been trying to stretch it, strengthen it. It's getting better, but I've needed this time to get stronger."

Many times during the season, Lewis could be spotted on the bench applying heat to his back. How bad was the injury?

"It affected me quite a bit," he said. "Before I got hurt, I was shooting around 54 or 55 percent. After that, some nights I felt good, and other nights were really tough. It is something that's in the back of my mind. Physical therapist Dan Dyrek said it could pop up again this season. I'll have to be constantly aware of it."

Lewis spent last week in Hawaii, where he played in a charity game with teammate and good friend Brian Shaw. He said the two rarely discussed the trade rumors that have followed Shaw most of the summer.

"Brian is handling it really well," said Lewis. "He's gotten a lot of criticism, and a lot of it is undue. He carried our team during the season."

What if the Celtics did trade Shaw?

"Then we better start looking for another point guard," Lewis said. "And we'll have to start rebuilding again. People don't understand the reason why Dee Brown was so good was because we had both Brian and Dee together. We need them both."

Lewis said he likes what he's seen of draft pick Rick Fox on television, but said Fox has his work cut out for him at the small forward spot. That position can be played by Larry Bird, Ed Pinckney, Kevin Gamble, Derek Smith and Lewis. In fact, it has long been assumed Lewis will switch permanently to the slot when Bird retires.

"Actually, I'd rather play the 2 guard spot," Lewis said. "Once my ballhandling gets a little better, it will be the best place for me."

Lewis has been doing solo workouts this summer, focusing on dribbling up and down the court. He figures he needs to start working with a small guard on trying to steal the ball, so he plans to put in some time at Northeastern next week with former Husky star Perry Moss.

It has been a pleasant summer for Lewis. He's a little bigger from the weights. He was married last weekend to his college sweetheart, Donna Harris. He bought a new home in Dedham. He has been free of controversy.

"The best thing for me is I've had time to ease into this," he said. "I've had a chance to watch the superstars in front of me like Larry, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, DJ and Danny Ainge. I've learned from them."

NBA superstars don't generally grace the LA Summer League with their presence, but Lewis may participate for the second consecutive season - not because anyone asked him, but simply because he'd like to.

"It depends on what kind of shape I'm in," he said. "People watch me more closely nowadays, and I don't want to embarrass myself."

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