BOSTON CELTICS CAPTAIN REGGIE LEWIS was an NBA All-Star, but there was nothing flamboyant about his game or his life. A quiet, community-conscious family man, he might have played out his career without ever creating a headline outside the sports pages. Then last April 29, the 6’7″, 195-lb. forward, feeling suddenly dizzy, stumbled and fell in a play-off game. Helped to the bench, Lewis, 27, later returned to the floor but left after only a minute when the dizziness returned. “I was scared,” he told a reporter. “I started flashing back to that Hank Gathers thing.”
He was not alone. Gathers, 23, a college star at Loyola Marymount in California, had collapsed during a game three years earlier and died of cardiomyopathy, a condition that can cause dangerous heart arrhythmia and cardiac arrest. The day after his own collapse, Lewis checked into New England Baptist Hospital in Boston, where 12 eminent heart specialists concluded that Lewis too suffered from cardiomyopathy and might never play basketball again. Stunned, Lewis and his wife, Donna—now pregnant with the couple’s second child—sought another opinion at nearby Brigham and Women’s Hospital. They were looking for encouragement, and they got it. After testing, Dr. Gilbert Mudge, the hospital’s chief of clinical cardiology, announced that Lewis suffered from a much less serious neurological disorder that could be controlled by medication. “Reggie is doing fine,” Mudge reported last week.
So fine, in fact, that on the afternoon of July 27, Lewis was in the Brandeis University gym shooting hoops. “He was letting people know how great he fell,” says student Amir Weiss. “He was ecstatic.” Then, without warning, he fainted, never regaining consciousness and apparently confirming the original grim diagnosis in the most final and terrible way. With the inevitable recriminations about to begin, Celtics CEO Dave Gavitt sounded a note of restraint. “It is a time,” he said, “of incredible grief.”