Is it really fair to say Red Auerbach held onto his Big Three too long?

Now that the dust has settled on the remembrance of the late, great Reggie Lewis, one question still remains: did Red Auerbach really hold onto his Big Three too long?

It's been a long held belief that Red should have traded Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish while they still had some value to help the Celtics rebuild for their next championship run. The logic seems sound as it took Boston a very long time after the original Big Three retired for the Celtics to become title contenders again. But after watching his documentary and reading all the glowing things people are saying about Lewis, the "held on too long" story seems to be missing an important piece.

It could simply be a case of romanticizing the past, but from all accounts, Lewis was a legit superstar on the rise.

Here are just a couple examples from ESPN's Jackie MacMullen:

By the time he died, he was one of six players who, from 1988-93, posted at least 7,500 points, 1,500 rebounds, 1,000 assists and 500 steals. The other five -- Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and Chris Mullin -- are all Hall of Famers.


For further evidence of what might have been, you need look no further than March 31, 1991, when Reggie Lewis did something I never thought possible: He completely and utterly flummoxed the great Michael Jordan.

Lewis blocked Jordan four times in that game and harassed him into a 12-for-36 shooting performance. On a night when Bird had his own shooting issues (he missed 21 of his 36 shots), Lewis scored 25 and utilized his lethal first step to keep Chicago's defenders guessing. Was he going left or right? Would he shake you with that explosive first step and attack the rim, or would he suddenly pull up after one devastating dribble and hoist his trademark praying mantis jumper?

Later on in the piece, MacMullen talks to Jordan who says that was the only time he was ever blocked four times in one game. That accomplishment, as well as the stats he put up when he was playing, certainly make you wonder just how good the 27-year-old could have been as he was just coming into his prime.

Along with Lewis, the Celtics also suffered a big setback when their second overall pick Len Bias died of a drug overdose less than 48 hours after he was drafted in 1986. Bias is still considered one of the best players to never play a minute in the NBA.

Who knows how good the tandem of Lewis and Bias could have been for the next several years after the original Big Three hung up their high tops. It seems too simplistic to say the Celtics were left with nothing after the Big Three left. Think if Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki or Kobe Bryant died tragically in their mid-20s. Not saying Lewis was as good as those players, but he was certainly a franchise player. Would it really be fair to criticize the team for not doing more to make itself better after such an unexpected turn of events?

No one ever says the Spurs should have traded David Robinson when he still had value. Why? Because Duncan's still here.

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