Reggie Lewis died on the basketball court at an off-season practice at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He was only 27 years old.
Reggie Lewis was a professional basketball player for the NBA’s Boston Celtics from 1987 to 1993.
Lewis had shown symptoms of heart problems in the preceding months (including collapsing during the opening game of their first-round playoff series with the Charlotte Hornets), and the cause of his death was subsequently attributed to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a structural heart defect that is considered the most common cause of death in young athletes.
James Crowley, a Brandeis University police officer who happened upon the gym on a routine patrol, and another Brandeis University police officer attempted to revive Lewis by using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but they were unsuccessful. Following Lewis’ death, it was alleged that Lewis had used cocaine and that drug use may have been a contributing factor in his death.
While a doctor who performed the autopsy on Lewis testified that the scarring on his heart was inconsistent with cocaine use, two other physicians who conducted a post-mortem examination of Lewis’ heart “found scarring that they described as ‘consistent with a cocaine cardiomyopathy’ — a cocaine-damaged heart.”
Multiple physicians have expressed skepticism regarding the listed cause of death–“adenovirus 2 — a common virus that causes the common cold.” The Wall Street Journal reported that physicians “suspected that cocaine killed Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis…but they were thwarted by actions by his family and a ‘dismissive’ policy toward drugs by the NBA.”
The Boston Celtics responded by expressing sadness about the “vicious attack on Reggie Lewis and his family,” and threatened “to file a $100 million lawsuit against the reporter, the Wall Street Journal and its parent company, Dow Jones and Co. Inc.”
After Lewis’ death, the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center was opened in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The center was funded partially by Lewis and routinely hosts major indoor track and field competitions, the Boston Indoor Games, home basketball games for Roxbury Community College, and Northeastern University track and field events.
On March 22, 1995, the Boston Celtics retired Lewis’ jersey. Lewis had worn the number 35 for his entire career. During the ceremony, former teammate Dee Brown made a speech while two other former teammates, Sherman Douglas and Xavier McDaniel, held up Lewis’ framed jersey.