Today in Celtics history: the tragic death of Reggie Lewis

Today, July 27th marks the 24th anniversary of one of the saddest days in Boston Celtics history.

On that day, rising star and team captain Reggie Lewis collapsed on a basketball court at Brandeis University where he had been shooting baskets with a friend - not playing one-on-one, not going at it too hard, just shooting baskets. He'd been advised to take it easy after collapsing in a playoff game a few months earlier against the Charlotte Hornets, out of concerns he might have cardiovascular problems.

Evidently, even that much activity proved to be too much. Just 27, Lewis had gone from a college player on nobody's radar besides legendary coach Jim Calhoun (more commonly known for his success with Connecticut, he was at that time with Northeastern) to a terror on both ends of the court, stopping Michael Jordan as he was entering his prime. Said Jordan of Lewis' own budding prowess (per ESPN's Jackie McMullen):

"It was clear the expectations for Reggie were very high at that time ... There was a lot of pressure on him, but it didn't seem to faze him at all ... He was a tough matchup ... he had those long arms that really bothered me ... I was trying to take advantage of his passive demeanor, but he didn't back down. He never relinquished his own aggressiveness ... He shocked me a little bit."

Deemed the heir apparent to the Larry Bird-era Celts by many after his blossoming in the 1990-91 season, his untimely demise was devastating to the franchise and fanbase to a degree that is hard to explain to fans who were not around in those times. It was as much as any factor a part of Boston's long era of decline, but it was more than that, too. For many fans like myself, too young to remember the impact of Len Bias' passing had seven years earlier, the invincibility we presumed our favorite players to possess was irrevocably shattered, introducing many of us to the fragility of human life much too soon.

Of course, Celtics fans of all ages were left in a state of shock that took months, even years to subside. The painful memories of what might have been are with us still.

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