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Jordan thought Lewis 'was on his way to being something really special'

Posted by shawn cassidy on July 27, 2013 at 5:15 AM

This could have been a Eastern Conference rival at some point in the 90's. Was it possible that Lewis could have been great like so many other Celtics before him, oh yes, he could have been. Lewis was about to enter his prime, and who knows what was going to happen. Jackie MacMullan | ESPNBoston.com, wrote something about Lewis's passing.Here's the part about Jordan and Lewis.

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?

"Reggie was hard to stop," Bird said. "He kept you off balance all the time. There were a few guys in the league I hated to guard because you didn't know what they were thinking.

"I'm glad Reggie was my teammate, because he was one of them."

On March 31, 1991, the Bulls strutted into the Boston Garden with a 53-17 record (they would go on to win 61 games). Jordan was about to win his fifth consecutive scoring title and his first NBA championship.

MJ was the best player in the game, the perfect measuring stick for a young player trying to establish credibility.

Yet, Shaw said, Lewis was neither awed nor intimidated by competing against MJ.

"When we got on the court, Reggie treated him like everyone else," Shaw said.

I called Jordan earlier this week to see if he had any recollections of a young Lewis blocking him four times.

"Oh, I remember it well," Jordan laughed. "He had my number that particular night."

Lewis, like so many young players of his generation, admired Jordan and hoped to emulate his ferocious commitment to the two-way game. Reggie and Shaw talked for hours about what they needed to do to introduce themselves into the discussion of great players in the league. Defense, they understood, was a paramount part of that conversation.

The Celtics had created a marketing poster declaring the "Changing of the Guards," featuring Lewis and Shaw towering over the parquet, with championship banners in the background.

"It was clear the expectations for Reggie were very high at that time," Jordan said. "There was a lot of pressure on him, but it didn't seem to faze him at all."

In that March 31 game, as Jordan pulled up for his patented fallaway -- one of the most feared weapons in basketball -- Lewis waited patiently for MJ to launch himself, then stretched his arms and timed it so he deflected the ball just as Jordan released.

The block surprised Jordan, whose otherworldly elevation usually negated any chance of a rejected shot.

Most players weren't athletic enough to literally "hang" with Jordan. Lewis was one of the exceptions.

"He was a tough matchup," Jordan said. "He had those long arms that really bothered me.

"I was trying to be aggressive with him. 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."

As he so often did with young players, Jordan tried to verbally engage Lewis, yet Reggie wouldn't participate. He merely smiled and made a move to the basket.

"I saw it happen all the time," Shaw said. "Players tried to intimidate him, make it personal. But Reggie never said a word.

"He was a silent assassin."

MJ dismissed Reggie's initial block as an anomaly. When it happened again, this time on a pull-up jumper, Jordan became irked. The next time, he became concerned. And by the fourth time, on a lefty drive to the hoop, Jordan was irritated -- and somewhat spooked.

"His length confused me," Jordan conceded. "Every time I thought I had him beat, he'd recover and get up on me. When you have the skills to break someone down on defense and you can't, it makes you tentative offensively."

Lewis was for sure a player that you wanted to pair with another top talent. Was he able to carry a team on his back? Another question that's left unanswered. I think it's nice to think that Reggie would have led the Celtics over one of MJ's title teams. It would have made for great basketball in the 90's regardless of what happened on the banner front.

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Categories: Celtics Legends Series

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Reply paul
7:50 AM on July 28, 2013 
This is just hard to talk about. To me, Bias and Lewis are two linked names - incredible talents, cut short. What a terrible five years that was for the Celtics. Bias - so touted. Lewis - under the radar, but Bostonians knew how good he was.
Reply paul
7:50 AM on July 28, 2013 
Lewis and Shaw, Rondo and Bradley...