Raymond Lewis is regarded by many to be one of the greatest basketball players that ever lived. Certainly without exception, the best to ever come out of Los Angeles. Lewis, a 6-foot-1-inch guard with unlimited shooting range, led his high school team to an 84-4 record and 3 straight CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) titles in '69, 70, and '71. Now back in the day there was no developmental league, but NBA coaches routinely sent players to LA to play in the "Summer League." Everybody who was anybody would play in that league every year. Lewis dropped 52 on a group of Los Angeles Lakers, while still in high school. He was offered 250 scholarships nationwide before deciding to attend Cal State LA. As a freshman he set all kinds of scoring records, and led the nation in scoring averaging 39 points a game, while shooting 60% from the floor-- an incredible feat for a guard who rarely shoots anything but jumpshots. Once scored 73 against UC Santa Barbara, hitting 30 of 40 from the floor. As a sophmore, the Lewis led Cal State team defeated number 3 ranked Long Beach State coached by Jerry Tarkanian. Lewis scored 53 in the double-overtime game. Four of the five players from that Long Beach State team would go to the NBA. He was the NCAA's second leading scorer averaging 32.9 points a game.
In '73 Lewis entered the NBA draft under it's new hardship rule and was drafted in the 1st round, number 18, by the Philadelphia 76ers. He was the youngest player ever drafted and signed by the NBA. The 6ers also had the number 1 overall pick, and had selected Doug Collins out of Illinois State. Lewis had a spectacular rookie camp and outplayed Collins at every phase of the game. In one scrimmage game Lewis is reported to have dropped as many as 60 points on Collins. It was so bad that management would not allow Collins to check Lewis. It was too humiliating for the young rookie. The 6ers however signed Collins to a $1 million dollar contract, making him one of the NBA's highest paid players. Soon a bitter contract dispute developed. If you believe the 6ers, Lewis walked out of camp. Lewis says that he was told to sit out a year and "mature." The following year Lewis attempted to sign with the ABA's Utah Stars, but Philly notified the Stars that Lewis was under contract with them and threatened to file suit. The signing never took place. Lewis says he was blackballed, and never made another serious attempt at his dream.
Lewis went back to LA to take out his frustrations on the playgrounds. He averaged 54 ppg in the Summer League, once had someone assemble the top 30 playground players in the city. One by one in a single day he beat them all. He was the subject of a 10 page article in Sports Illustrated in it's October 16, 1978 edition, but thats as far as it went. And never lost a one on one game to an NBA player.
Raymond Lewis died from complications due to an infection in his leg, which was treatable by advances in modern medicine. Lewis contracted the infection in his leg, and while Doctors and family begged him to have the leg amputated, he initially refused. Why? Because he told family he wouldn't be able to make his jumpshot with one leg. He lived and died for the game. Lewis died quietly and without much fanfare, but if you ever saw him play or played against him, as I did, the experience is still special. I've stated in previous blog posts that I saw a 21 year old Dr J. I have also seen Michael Jordan. Other than those two, I've never seen ANYONE I felt was better than Raymond Lewis. And I'm not alone. In his 2005 novel Runnin' Rebel, Jerry Tarkanian says, "Raymond Lewis was the greatest player I ever saw." You should have been there.
Check him out at www.raymondlewis.com