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Original Issue

A Legend Searching for His Past

Raymond Lewis was considered the greatest basketball talent in L.A., but he's still waiting to play in his first NBA game

The days blend together in the City of the Angels; the summer sun, white and hot, is a spotlight for the lucky, for others a heat lamp turning the sidewalk into a griddle. The street is lined with houses losing the battle for respectability, the curbs littered with refuse. Down a sidewalk comes a boy in outsized Bermuda shorts and a faded T shirt. He is dribbling a basketball, pale from wear. As the boy reaches the corner, a young man lounging against a pole jumps out and deftly flicks at the ball, grabbing it in midair. He bats it several times from hand to hand, then shuffles it quickly between his legs, back and forth. The boy's mouth is open. Swiftly the ball circles the man's trunk—one, two, three times—then flies up into the air. He snares it with his extended right hand and in one motion rolls it gently down the arm, past his neck and on down his left arm, flips it again into the air and catches it near his eyes with his right hand, instantaneously spinning it on one finger as the boy stares, drinking in the show. "Mister," says the youngster. "You the greatest."

Raymond Lewis, playing his game on a hot sidewalk in Watts instead of under a spotlight, throws the ball back to the youngster, the fun draining from his eyes.

"I used to be," he says softly.

"In Los Angeles he is a legend. You say Raymond, they say Lewis. You say Lewis, they say Raymond."—Bob Hopkins, assistant coach, New York Knicks.

Raymond Lewis was so good that he never needed a nickname. For three straight years (1969-71) his Verbum Dei High School team won the California Inter-scholastic Federation divisional championship, and he was named his division's best player two years in a row. As a freshman at California State-Los Angeles, he threw in 73 points one night and led the country's freshmen in scoring with a 38.9-point average; David Thompson of North Carolina State was second. Lewis' team, on which no player was taller than 6'5", defeated the powerful UCLA frosh, a club that included David Meyers, Andre McCarter and Pete Trgovich. Lewis scored 40 points. In his sophomore season, his first of varsity competition, Lewis averaged 32.9 a game to finish second in scoring in the nation; then he turned pro. In 1973, the Philadelphia 76ers drafted him at the end of the first round under the hardship rule. Lewis' courtship with the pros had begun while he was still in high school and at 20 he was the youngest player ever drafted in the first round and signed by the NBA. The record books were open, waiting for him to rewrite them, but he never played a minute.

He was a shade over 6'1", lithe and blessed with agility that seemed almost supernatural; he could change direction as quickly as he could think it, he was a wisp that could not be contained. And his jump shot was classic. But as good as Lewis was shooting the ball, he was better dribbling and passing it. He could weave the length of the floor through a full-court press and score a layup. He could fire a pass and hit a teammate 90 feet away. George McQuarn, his former high school coach, said, "He was so gift ed offensively that it was frightening."

Now Raymond Lewis is 26 and living with his wife Sandra and young daughter Kamilah in a cramped bedroom that has sheets for drapes on the windows, in the home of his paternal grandparents in the Compton community adjacent to L.A. He survives through the charity of relatives and a dole from a group of L.A. businessmen who are financing his comeback. He had a can't-miss tag, but Raymond Lewis missed because the only person who could stop him was Raymond Lewis. And that is what happened. He held himself scoreless.

For all the talk about basketball being a "team" game, the fact is that very few players ever make an All-Star team by moving without the ball or setting a good pick. The measure of a player is his ability to get his shot whenever he wants it, to challenge his man and beat him. For every success there is a failure, a coach yelling, "Whose man is that?" On a basketball court Raymond Lewis had a colossal ego and conceit. He beat you straight up, one-on-one, then sneered.

Lewis discovered early that he could barter his basketball ability for just about anything he wanted. To paraphrase Mae West, he always gave them something, but never all, of what they wanted. College coaches literally clamored to pay his rent and provide money, clothes and other favors. Though he never had worked a day in his life, he drove a new Corvette to his classes at L.A. State. His mother, Ella, a devotee of drag racing, totaled it. Teachers gave him grades. Pro basketball agents loaned him money that was never repaid and offered automobiles; at one time Lewis had a Cadillac, a Pantera and a custom van. Says one agent, Vic Weiss, "I don't think anybody would really tell you all they gave him because it would make them look very foolish." Even the pro coaches and general managers were willing to put up with almost any indignity. Once they saw him play they kept coming back, passionate suitors at his doorstep. Over a period of years Philadelphia gave him $40,000.

All last summer he worked out in anticipation of a tryout with the New York Knicks, playing in an industrial league in Costa Mesa, Calif. Lewis' attitude had changed. He was subdued and showed less bravado, and slowly his skills were coming back. "Offensively, he's as good as any guard I've ever seen," said Billy Paultz, the center for the San Antonio Spurs and a summer-league teammate. "He has an automatic jump shot. He's not afraid to go against anybody."

Looking back, Raymond Lewis claims that the worst handicap of his years of promise was his avarice. He took what he could get. "The bad effect was that I tended to get soft," he says now. "They were ripping me off for my talent, and I slacked up. I lost a lot of motivation. It softened me, and I neglected myself and my game. I was an 18-year-old with a new Corvette."

He was also a pro rookie who signed a contract and then wanted to renegotiate, not only before he had played a regular-season game but also before he had taken part in a regular practice. The 76ers, naturally, refused. And Raymond Lewis was dumbfounded—and hurt. He went home to L.A.

"The bottom line on him is that he's absolutely the best player ever to come out of California. If he were playing today, if he had gone along with Philadelphia and continued to improve, he'd be an All-Pro guard. He would have been in the class of Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. He'd be the best in the NBA today. No question."—George McQuarn.

Lewis' Philadelphia saga is so confusing that even the principals can't figure out exactly what happened. Probably most of them would like to forget the entire business. Lewis himself never was enamored of the idea of going East; he would rather have been anywhere else. The previous year (1972-73) the 76ers had set a record for futility, winning nine of 82 games. Don DeJardin was the club's general manager then, and he remembers that when Lewis was drafted, six or seven impatient people phoned to claim they would be Raymond's agent during the contract negotiations. Finally, DeJardin talked to Lewis, who said, "I'm my own agent." But Raymond arrived in Philadelphia accompanied by Paul McCracken, who once played for the Houston Rockets. Lewis says he opened negotiations at $2 million, then dropped down to $1 million, but DeJardin scoffs at those figures. In those heady days, NBA money had Donald Duck's picture on it. Finally, after a phone call to his father, Lewis signed what he thought was a guaranteed three-year contract for $450,000. Actually, it was for $190,000. The contract provided for a $25,000 signing bonus, $50,000 the first year, $55,000 the second and $60,000 the third. The rest of the money, payable in the late 1980s, hinged on Lewis staying in the NBA. A newspaper reporter said the contract was appropriate for "a third-round pick with terminal acne."

A short time later the 76ers held their June rookie camp and Raymond Lewis was sensational. Hungry for news from what usually was a humdrum period, and practiced at mocking the team's top draft pick, the Philadelphia media "discovered" him, and were delighted that he looked better than Doug Collins, the club's and the league's first draft choice in 1973 and a star in the Olympic Games, who had signed for $200,000 a year. COLLINS TALKS A GOOD GAME, BUT RAYMOND LEWIS PLAYS IT blared one headline, LEWIS DESTROYS VAN LIER-TYPE was another. "Raymond Lewis is...a 20-point favorite over Doug Collins...." wrote one reporter, who cited a quote from Dick McGuire, the New York Knicks scout—"Raymond Lewis has more raw basketball talent than any college player in the country and that includes Bill Walton. He might be the best draft choice Philly made since Billy Cunningham." Another writer said, "Lewis is kind of young to be a legend, but he's off to a fast start." It was said that 76ers Coach Gene Shue refused to allow Collins to guard Lewis, and that is when Raymond Lewis decided he needed some new and richer fine print in his contract.

Lewis had shown up at rookie camp with his girl friend. "No one told me she couldn't come," he said. Al Ross, the Beverly Hills agent who had stung pro basketball with litigation over his client Spencer Haywood, was his new representative. Don DeJardin had resigned. In effect, Shue now was also the general manager. Lewis would practice a few days, then, upset over his contract, steal away in the middle of the night and fly to L.A. The 76ers would talk him into coming back. Lewis contends that once, while he was sitting in Ross' office and listening on a speaker phone, he heard Shue promise to renegotiate the contract and pay him another $20,000 in cash. Lewis showed up at camp with a letter summarizing the phone call, and Shue, he says, tore it up. Both Ross and Shue deny that such an agreement was made. In fact, Ross is suing Lewis for money he claims is owed him for legal services and personal loans. "When a guy has 12 people representing him and 12 cars, he has a lot of problems," Ross says now. "He came in here and said, 'DeJardin lied to me. Gene Shue lied to me.' We tried to work it out. The guy was ungrateful. He left a lot of people stranded. He owes a lot of money to a lot of people. He didn't want to face reality."

But reality to Raymond Lewis was that he was better than Doug Collins and that Collins was being paid four times as much as he was. He kept busy at the airports. He would depart, the 76ers would bring him back, then give him only two or three days of expense money in an attempt to keep him close to home. Lewis would take off again. At one point he was supposed to meet the club in Chicago at O'Hare Airport and join them for an exhibition-game trip. He failed to show. Shue dispatched Assistant Coach Jack McMahon to find him. McMahon located him and filled him in on the team's offense on the way to a game in Normal, Ill., ironically, Doug Collins' college town. Lewis dressed for the game, but Shue had not planned to use him. Wounded again, Raymond slipped away at halftime; no one could guard him on or off the court. The Philly papers now called him "The Phantom."

"Whatever happened to Raymond Lewis?"—Gene Shue.

Verbum Dei High School is an oasis in the middle of Watts. On all sides are poverty, despair, disease. "Charcoal Alley," a street that was burnt out in the 1965 rioting, is not far away. Neither are the conditions that, in effect, ignited the first match—unemployment in Watts today is between 10% and 15%.

Father Thomas James is one of the priests who instruct the 265 students at the private Catholic school. He taught English to Raymond Lewis and remembers him as quiet and shy, and not particularly interested in his studies. "Basketball was the focal point of his life, and he didn't have a great amount of confidence in himself as a person," says Father James. "But on the basketball court he was phenomenal. A different person emerged."

The priest is sitting on a wall in the school courtyard, a short, black man talking in the patois of the community. "When he came back from Philly, he was just another cat on the street trying to make it. He didn't have the sophistication to deal with the people in the NBA. He went off like a young eagle just learning to fly and came back with his wings clipped. People around here thought he was an NBA star when he was still in high school. And he was just a kid. He had all of this talent, but he didn't have anybody to share it with, though a lot of people tried to take his success and use it for themselves.

"Those owners just laughed about the contract demands. They said, 'These niggers come all this way and tell us what they are going to do. They're telling us. We got the money and they ain't got nothing.' How're you going to deal with someone like Red Auerbach, you a kid, when Bill Russell couldn't deal with him? Raymond's a very proud person. And the whole thing has given him some negative hurt. But I have the feeling that he's going to get a fair shot, and if he does that, I'll feel good."

Twenty feet away is the Verbum Dei gymnasium, with its worn and dusty tile floor and wooden backboards, hardly the type of facility you would expect at a school that won the California Interscholastic Federation championship six straight years, at a school that has sent David Greenwood and Roy Hamilton to UCLA.

Raymond Lewis is on the court, his body glistening, playing one-on-one with George Simpson, a 21-year-old cousin. During his exile from basketball, Lewis had gained weight, ballooning to 205 pounds, and developed a bad reputation. The word was that he was "hanging out," drinking beer. Caldwell Black, the coach who got him started in the recreational leagues during junior high school, recalls walking into a community park one day and noticing in the distance a chunky fellow shooting a jump shot with a motion so pure it provoked his curiosity. As he got closer he realized with a wave of sadness and pity that it was Raymond Lewis, the legend who never was.

These days Lewis is trimmed down, with only a lingering hint of thickness about the midsection. Since February he has worked out nearly every day, running to exhaustion on the beach, wearing heavy boots, practicing his ball handling, scrimmaging with the Verbum Dei team, trying to erase the past.

Oddly enough, the architect of his comeback is Don DeJardin, who started Lewis' odyssey in 1973 by refusing his contract demands. DeJardin is now a real-estate investment man in L.A. as well as the agent for several players and the owner of an ice cream store. He bumped into Lewis in a parking lot last year and once again realized what a shame it was that he never had played pro basketball. It was DeJardin who had asked then-76er Coach Jack Ramsay to look at Lewis while he was still a freshman in college. Earlier that year, Lewis had been offered a $75,000 contract after a workout with Pittsburgh of the ABA. Ramsay had the youngster play one-on-one with a 76ers guard. Lewis destroyed him.

DeJardin remembers speaking to a class at the UCLA law school last spring, and when the students discovered he was involved with Raymond Lewis they begged for details. When he finished, they stood and applauded. "In 1973 he was a 20-year-old with the emotions of a 14-year-old," says DeJardin. "Right now he is a 25-year-old with the emotions of a 35-year-old because he has lived through some trying times and weathered them. He's the American Dream right now—the guy who had it all and lost it, who was buried. And now he's getting another shot."

DeJardin rounded up seven L.A. businessmen who agreed to put Lewis on a monthly retainer of $600 so he could concentrate on getting back in shape. In a few months he dropped more than 15 pounds.

Watching Lewis on the court, you first notice his legs. They flash like high-speed machinery. His starts and stops are abrupt. Then his ball handling draws your attention. His head is always up, his eyes looking for an opening, while the ball is under control. His cousin is a dogged opponent, but Lewis can do what he wants. Father James comes into the gym and joins the game. Now it is two against one. Lewis' spirits rise. His fakes are more intense, his moves even quicker. The other players are befuddled as they grab after him, while he glides into the air. He wins the game easily.

"Want some more?" he teases.

"No, I need a rest," says the priest.

Pat Williams, who replaced DeJardin as Philly's GM, recalls watching Lewis in college. "I walked out of the gym with a tingle, a glow, because I had seen a special performance," he says. In 1975 Williams decided to bring Lewis back to the 76ers camp. He still was their property, though he was on the suspended list. In fact, the previous year the team had stopped him from playing with the Utah Stars by threatening a lawsuit. It was the closest Lewis ever came to appearing in a pro game. He was on the bench when Utah officials received a call from the 76ers telling them there was the possibility of a lawsuit if Lewis played. "Raymond was not going to waltz around pro basketball doing what he wanted," Williams says. "We had tied up about $30,000 to $40,000 in him and had not gotten back a plugged nickel."

So, for a payment of $15,000, which effectively canceled the original three-year contract, Philly agreed to bring back "The Phantom" and paid $1,000 for a share in a team in the Southern California Pro Basketball Summer League so that Lewis might play himself back into shape. "I got one report two-thirds of the way through the season that Raymond had disappeared," Williams recalls. "Apparently he disappeared during the ball game. He went down the floor, didn't get the ball on the fast break and, disgusted, kept right on going, right out the door. They never saw him again."

Though Shue and McMahon wanted nothing to do with Lewis, Williams persevered, sent him a plane ticket, phoned to make sure he had proper instructions, then went to the Philadelphia airport accompanied by a group of writers and broadcasters. Lewis walked off the plane with Summer Bartholomew, the 1975 Miss USA, who had sat with him during the flight. He was carrying a Bible. Williams says he was thinking "Raymond's all straightened out." And Lewis announced at a press conference, "I'm ready to forget the past and just play basketball. I'd say it's about time to start my career." Then he added, "Pat's a nice dude."

At the 76ers' first workout Lewis complained of leg cramps, and Philly rookie Lloyd Free handled any moves he tried. The next day Lewis did not practice, complaining of a sore back. The following morning, as Williams walked into the gym Lewis was walking out. "I can't take it anymore," he said. "I'm going home." "Wait a minute," said an exasperated Williams. "We'll get you the plane ticket." Then he told the press, "The file on Raymond Lewis is closed, the cabinet door is locked and his association with Philadelphia is sealed history. We are through with him."

"It was amazing how Raymond always surrounded himself with people that just worshiped him."—Nob Scott, assistant coach at L.A. State.

Away from the hero-worshipers, Lewis was a loner. He skipped some prep banquets in his honor because he was uncomfortable eating with strangers. A college in Louisiana once sent a plane to L.A. so that he and a high school teammate could visit the school. Lewis recalls that the college had offered to build a home for his parents. He now says that he wasn't really interested in visiting the school. The other player made the trip without him. Stu Inman, vice-president of the Portland Trail Blazers, went to see him play a game before the 1973 NBA draft and to talk about Portland selecting him. Lewis never showed. Howard Adams, then the Stars' assistant coach, recalls that while Lewis was with Utah he refused to dress for practice with the rest of the players. As the years passed, he grew more aloof, more cautious. "He was really put out that he had to keep on proving himself," says Adams. "Everybody was watching him, scrutinizing him, looking for things."

The feeling that Lewis had that he was special began when he was growing up. His parents were divorced; he would live with one, then the other, then with one of two sets of grandparents, each faction vying for his affection. "I still spoil him," says his mother. In elementary school, when Raymond complained that an older bully was beating him on his way home, his mother bought him a motorbike. One of his father's treasures is a meticulously kept scrapbook filled with photos and clippings of his son's exploits. Raymond scrawled in his high school hand such captions as: This is my most deadliest weapon—dribbling. And, Fall back jumper in the Sports Arena. "The boy never had to work," says Raymond's grandfather, Rufus Lewis, a 69-year-old retired barber who with his wife Majestia helped raise him. "He never did anything but play ball. That's all he knows, and as long as I'm living I'm going to be on his back, pushing him."

Rufus Lewis acted as his grandson's trainer. Obsessed with his mission, he cemented his entire backyard, put up a basketball goal and a light so Raymond could practice into the night. "I'll be a proud old man when I see that boy get a chance to prove himself to the world," he says now. "I want the whole world to get a chance to see what he can do."

The Rufus Lewises have since moved from Watts. They were almost burned out during the riots. Raymond and his grandfather stood on the roof with a hose to keep the flames from reaching them. The family lives in Compton, where there is a basket in the backyard, this one for 12-year-old Ramon, who shows the same promise that his brother did at that age. Another brother, Raynard, was a good player also.

The college suitors came courting Raymond Lewis when he was ready to enter high school. He actually enrolled in three, Fremont, Jordan and Locke, staying a while at each, before settling on Verbum Dei because McQuarn had hired Caldwell Black as his assistant. Of course, nearly every school that strongly pursued him violated recruiting rules. One put him up in a luxury apartment on the ocean. He had only to ask for money, favors, clothes. But his heart belonged to Jerry Tarkanian, then the coach at Long Beach State, which Tarkanian had turned into a national power. Tarkanian had been in contact with Lewis since the 10th grade, and during one stretch Tarkanian spent so much time with Lewis' mother that one day when the coach's wife Lois phoned him he called her Ella throughout the conversation.

Tarkanian saw Lewis as "the missing link" and told everyone that with him he could realize his dream: beating UCLA and winning an NCAA championship. At the time the coach also was recruiting Ernie Douse, then New York City's Player of the Year, and when Douse came out to California during the summer, Lewis badgered Tarkanian about setting up a one-on-one game between them. "But I wouldn't allow it," says Tarkanian. "I knew that Raymond would kill Douse, and I was afraid he'd get discouraged and go back home. Raymond would play all of our kids one-on-one and kill 'em, and half of them were All-Americas. He was in high school. Nobody knows him like I do, and I say he was the best high school player I ever saw." For the last few years, every time Tarkanian's name would come up for a professional coaching job, he could expect a telephone call from his former protègè, encouraging him to take the job. "He knew I would give him a long, close look in the pros," said Tarkanian.

"Lewis was blessed with such tremendous talent. He had body balance, great reflexes and coordination. A lot of players have those skills and never use them, but Raymond had them and developed them. He had a great quickness on the court, but it was his ability to shoot with a man right on top of him that made him so great. A lot of players can shoot, but Lewis had all the moves to get the shot off. He loved to take players one-on-one. His quickness made it impossible for one man to guard him. He loved it."—Jerry Tarkanian, UNLV coach.

Lewis would have gone to Long Beach, but Bob Miller, the L.A. State coach, had hired Caldwell Black to be his assistant coach. Also, Miller had enrolled Lewis in three summer-school classes. At one point Lewis wrote to Miller and said he did not want to go there. But at the same time he was telling Tarkanian, "It boiled down to the money and the car and the other things, stuff I never had before."

Miller pointed out that he was already in summer school. Tarkanian and Lewis assumed that Raymond would have to sit out a season as a transfer student if he came to Long Beach. Actually, Lewis could have enrolled at Long Beach the following fall. There was no NCAA regulation against it. Tarkanian still insists that when he checked with the NCAA. he was told that Lewis would have to transfer. Regardless, he was off to a great academic start at L.A. State, scoring straight A's in his classes—beginning golf, physical conditioning and basketball. "I never felt worse about losing a player," says Tarkanian. He found out about it at a local All-Star game when reporters told him the news. Tarkanian had arranged for Lewis' girl friend to enroll at Long Beach. She did, but switched to L.A. State.

Miller and Tarkanian were coaching rivals dating back to high school, and Tark the Shark held a big edge. He had pushed Long Beach State to prominence while Miller worked with second-line players. They were in the same conference, and signing Lewis was a considerable triumph for Miller. But Lewis' short stay at L.A. State was a tempestuous time for his coach. Miller is an affable, easygoing fellow and was hardly prepared to handle Lewis, who was his entree to the big time. The first time L.A. State played Long Beach, the game was on Tarkanian's court, and Lewis, nervous and jittery, hounded by opponents and the crowd, missed his first 14 shots and wound up shooting eight for 34. The Forty Niners' Glenn McDonald, later a first-round draft pick for Boston, said afterward, "Raymond, Raymond, Raymond. We get tired of Tark talking about how good Raymond is. Anybody can be stopped." In the next game, played at L.A. State, the Long Beach fans brought banners ridiculing Lewis and yelled, "Shoot, Raymond, shoot!" every time he touched the ball. He scored 53 points, and L.A. State beat Long Beach in double overtime. Bob Miller, his suit coat soaked through with perspiration, embraced Raymond's father and said, "It was all worth it."

But it all came to naught. Soon after Lewis quit L.A. State to turn pro, Miller became disillusioned with coaching temperamental players. He is now a physical-education teacher.

Trying to explain his repeated failures to play pro ball, Lewis subscribes to a conspiracy theory. "If I had been a white player, God knows I'd be playing and deserving the acclaim as one of the alltime greats of the sport," a Watts newspaper quoted him as saying. He claims he was blackballed, that for some inexplicable reason the 76ers turned against him. "Here I was every day showing up their top draft choice, killing him," he says. "They gave Doug Collins all the money and I was eating him alive. There wasn't any comparison." Lewis even believes that someone altered his field-goal shooting percentage in college and that a Philadelphia newspaper writer was fired because he was printing too many positive things about him. "That's what I heard," he says.

Some of his friends, the buddies he brought along with him to college, now work in factories. One of them, Dwight Slaughter, is a burly, stocky man with a fierce countenance made even more menacing by a goatee, long sideburns and glowering eyes. He also thinks he is being blackballed by the NBA. "They don't want any West Coast ballplayers," he said one day recently in Lewis' presence. "See, this is paradise out here. The West Coast player knows everything. You can't control him. So they get the East Coast players. They can control them."

Lewis agrees with him.

"Raymond and I go into a gym and there'll be some NBA players there," says Slaughter. "They know they can't play with us."

"They see us, they go to another part of the gym," Lewis chimes in. "And we're supposed to be finished, washed up."

"But once we get in, once we get a chance in the NBA, they'll see what's going on," says Slaughter. "You watch for me with the Chicago Bulls this year."

During recent months, Lewis claims to have changed many of his attitudes. His comeback, he says, was financed only in part by the L.A. businessmen. It also had spiritual backing. "I was a sinner like everybody else," he says. "But I was blind as a blind man. I realized I was cheating myself and I reached out and asked for help. And I got it. I just want a break. I don't want to be like no Joe Louis, to end up broke. This is it for me. I got to do it all. I can't lay back. I got to build my stamina. I got to train. I got to half kill myself. I've grown up. If push comes to shove, I've got to go out there and do some slavery. Get a job. Get out there and struggle. I brought a lot of problems on myself by leaving school and going for the money. But I paid for those mistakes. If I've cheated anyone, I figure that we're all even now. I want my family under a roof I can say is mine. I want it for my wife and daughter. They're my strength. The Lord will decide through certain people if I will play pro ball. But I don't think my life will be complete if I don't."

The New York Knickerbockers opened their rookie and free-agent camp last July 24 at Monmouth College in West Long Branch, N.J., and Raymond Lewis was there, which, considering his history, was a good beginning. However, he was complaining of a cold, seemed hesitant to mingle with the other players in the dining hall and spent much of his time inquiring about the location of the nearest airport. He did not want to have to ride back on the bus to New York with the others. "I'd like to get back to California," he said. "When this is over, there's nothing for me here."

On the floor, flashes of the old offensive greatness were evident, but in a free-agent camp it is every man for himself. Lewis would pass the ball and never see it again. Often he was in poor position, his defense was almost nonexistent and. surprisingly, as one observer noted, in effort and hustle he was "10th among the guys on the floor."

The following day Lewis seemed to improve during the morning session. He said his cold was cured, and he dominated some one-on-one drills, his ebullience mounting with each success. At the luncheon break Coach Willis Reed said that he had invited Lewis back to the fall camp. That evening the players scrimmaged again. By then it was obvious to all who was going to return and who was going to continue to exist on rumors and hope. The YMCAs were waiting.

And then it happened. During the scrimmage, Lewis dribbled upcourt and his man challenged him at the midcourt line. Lewis gave a little fake and accelerated and left him floundering. A taller player came out recklessly to pick him up, as the murmuring began among the players on the sideline. The attention was back. Lewis pulled up for his jump shot, the taller forward, arms outstretched, prepared to react, but he was a split second too late. The abrupt stop had caught him. It was just as it used to be, the sun a spotlight, just like all of those times at Verbum Dei and at L.A. State, just as it was when no one said no to Raymond Lewis. He was poised in the air now, head up, the ball leaving his hand with perfect rotation, heading toward the basket 15 feet away, the bewitched forward waving futilely as it went by and the players on the sideline leaning forward, the words forming in their mouths. "Sweet Lew," one of them cackled as the ball rippled through the net. "Do it. Sweet Lew, do it."

After the Knicks' rookie camp, DeJardin and Lewis assessed the team's roster, which at that time was loaded with guards. Clearly, Lewis would have a hard time making the Knicks. With this in mind. DeJardin phoned Gene Shue, the newly named coach of the San Diego Clippers, and the upshot was that Shue invited Lewis to fall camp. A contract was signed.

On Sept. 15 Raymond reported to the San Diego Clippers for veteran preseason practice. Ten days later he was cut, the waves of uncertainty back again, anger welling.

"What I was looking for was a guard to complement Randy Smith, a penetrating, passing guard, which Raymond was when I saw him in Philadelphia," Shue said. "This time he played well, but he was not what I was looking for. He was judged on what he, Raymond Lewis, would do for the Clippers. I gave him a fair, honest chance to succeed. Maybe Raymond will never understand all that."

"It's not my talent, it's beyond that," Lewis said. "I felt I played well. I had 25 points in an intrasquad game. I passed well, but I had the feeling some of the players didn't like me and they felt I had an attitude because of my background.... Just throwing me off the team because there might be problems. I can't believe it. Right now I'm just trying to put my life back into perspective."

That perspective includes the possibility of a new professional minor league in the Western states. There is also the European circuit. And there is the daily newspaper with the NBA roster changes and injury reports. There is always hope, sometimes false, but who knows? They always said Raymond Lewis was the best. He still believes it.



Lewis' pro odyssey started at 20; now 26, he was recently cut by San Diego.



In San Diego's training camp, Lewis wore a number again, but back in the neighborhood he was just one of many hopefuls.



Facing an uncertain future, Lewis passes time with his grandparents and daughter.