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Reggie Lewis

SPORTS and sports figures play an unusually strong role in Boston and New England. With the Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics, the traditions run a bit deeper, the sports writers are a bit tougher, the fans a bit more knowledgeable. These are our teams, this is our nightly theater and drama, and we know and discuss the players as members of an extended family. Boston has seen so much talent in its athletes over the years that talent alone isn't enough; we appraise, and care about, the essential person.

That is why the sudden passing of Reggie Lewis, the Celtics team captain who played college basketball here at Northeastern, hit this area so hard. Lewis (Reggie, to us) had collapsed during a playoff game this spring and had not played since. One team of doctors diagnosed him with a serious heart condition, but a group Reggie later went to said the condition was not serious. When hearing that he fell while practicing this week, the entire town was overcome with emotion for a young husband and father who , in the glamorous world of big-time sports, had always remained steady, simple, humble - like a piece of Shaker furniture, a friend noted. As the sixth man on Baltimore's famous Dunbar High School team, not sought by top college teams, Reggie always had to fight and earn his spot. Boston knew this, and loved him for it.

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The tragedy is bound to open complex questions about the role of the medical profession in advising sports teams. But in this case, we hope the media do not get caught in a bitter blame game. There is no reason to believe the physicians involved acted out of anything but their best ability.

In listening to local talk radio, on for 24 hours with the Lewis story, what came across powerfully were the qualities of unspoiled goodness about the man that seemed so permanent. All spoke of gentleness, kindness, consideration. Reggie started a turkey giveaway in November one year, and one man always thought of Reggie and Thanksgiving together.

Boston has always had a racial edge. But most of the callers were white. One man told of not being this moved since he said goodbye at North Station to his brother, who was on his way to Vietnam, not to return.

This quality of brotherhood and simple love defined Reggie. That we all feel it offers some hope.

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