The Journal also says that the Celtics repeatedly balked at urging Lewis to be tested, a contention denied by the club. Under the NBA's drug policy, no veteran player can be forced to take a drug test unless the team demonstrates to a league-appointed expert that there is "reasonable cause" for such a test; should the expert order a test, the player can be suspended for refusing. "We were asked once whether we thought Reggie was a drug user, and we said no," Celtic executive vice president and general manager Jan Volk said last week. "We were asked once if he could be forced to be tested, and we said, well, there arc privacy issues involved and issues with the Players' Association. But—and I cannot say this strongly enough—the idea that Reggie's life was in danger if he did not submit to a drug test was never emphasized. The issue of drugs was never presented strongly to us. If it had been, we would've made certain that Reggie understood it, and we would've made certain that he took the test."
The Journal suggests that both before Lewis's death and afterward, the Celtics ducked the issue of possible involvement by Lewis with cocaine, not only for the sake of the team's image—remember that it was a Celtic first-round draft pick named Len Bias who, only seven years before, had become the sports world's most famous cocaine casualty—but also for financial reasons. The Journal says that in the summer of '93 the club's parent company, the Boston Celtics Limited Partnership, was negotiating the sale to Fox Television of an option to buy a TV station it owned; according to the Journal, the team may have feared that "a drug scandal might have endangered the negotiations." Also, says the Journal, the Celtics wanted to avoid a squabble over Harris Lewis's and the team's ability to collect more than $15 million in insurance. "Any hint of drugs would have jeopardized the Celtics's huge life-insurance policy on Mr. Lewis," writes Suskind.
But Celtic officials insist the negotiations with Fox didn't influence their thinking. The Celtics also say that Equitable Cos., the lead insurer, had no drug exclusion in the life policy it sold to the Celtics in 1991. Club officials say a finding of drug use would have precluded payment of the millions only if there had been proof of misrepresentations on the application for insurance (i.e., if Lewis had said he was not a drug user when in fact he was). Further, the Celtics say that if Lewis had been proved after his death to have been a drug user, the Celtics' $10 million obligation to the Lewis estate from his contract would have been voided. Volk says the team would have met the financial obligation anyway, but as owner Paul Gaston puts it. "If we were the greedy bastards they say we are, we would have pursued the possibility [that Lewis did drugs] aggressively and refused to pay until it was proven drugs were not a factor." Officials at Equitable would not comment.
Eventually the dream team reached the depressing conclusion that Lewis had a life-threatening risk profile and would probably never play again. It was on May 2, after the Lewises were informed of that diagnosis by Scheller, that they left Baptist, literally under cover of darkness, and checked into Brigham and Women's, a prestigious teaching hospital less than a mile away. (Harris Lewis formerly worked in the personnel department of that hospital.) The Journal article suggests strongly that the move was made in response to pressure for a drug test by doctors at Baptist. On Sunday, Harris Lewis disputed that assertion and offered other reasons for the switch.
"When Dr. Scheller gave us the diagnosis, we said, 'Can we speak to a cardiologist?' " said Harris Lewis. "It's not that we distrusted Dr. Scheller or even the diagnosis, but we just wanted another opinion. We felt shut off from the process. This was overwhelming news for us. Also, Dr. Scheller handed us a press release and said, 'This is what we're sending out to the media.' It all seemed so quick to us. We needed to digest it but weren't given the time."
All this will sound familiar to anyone who has dealt with doctors and hospitals at times of stress. At the same time, the doctors, from their perspective, had worked very promptly to administer a battery of tests to Lewis and were confident in their diagnosis. Was it a mistake for the Lewises to leave? Maybe. Were they upset at repeated questions about drugs? Absolutely. Were they put off by what seemed to them to be high-handed treatment by the dream team? Certainly. But did the Lewises leave Baptist to escape a drug test or because Reggie wanted to hide a history that included drug use? The Journal's implication to that effect is not supported by hard proof.
After a week of tests at Brigham, Dr. Gilbert Mudge, the hospital's chief of clinical cardiology, convened a press conference and announced, in the presence of a smiling Lewis and his wife, a startling medical conclusion: Lewis suffered from a relatively benign fainting condition called neurocardiogenic syncope and would, in all probability, be back in a Celtic uniform for the 1993-94 season. It seems amazing now, in hindsight, that anyone would so readily accede to a diagnosis that was nearly 180 degrees from that of the dream team's. Harris Lewis says that she and her husband were merely seeking a second opinion and, though they appeared to endorse the Mudge diagnosis, did not embrace it without reservation. As for the Celtics' position, Volk explains it this way: "You've got to understand that Brigham is a leading teaching institution and Dr. Mudge is a highly respected cardiologist. We weren't checking in at some health stop. Sure, we wanted to believe there was hope. But that hope was coming from respected people."
Over the next few weeks, however, Mudge ran Lewis through tests and, according to the Journal, eventually directed him to consult a third team of specialists, in California. Lewis flew to Los Angeles in June for tests. After the results came back, Mudge, according to the Journal, reached a pessimistic conclusion. Lewis apparently had both a damaged heart and a fainting condition that, together, did indeed put his playing career in peril. The Journal describes a meeting in mid-July between Mudge and Lewis in Lewis's car during which the doctor told Lewis that "cocaine is the only thing that would explain what we're seeing." Harris Lewis says that if such a conversation occurred, she was not told about it by her husband. Mudge would not discuss the case with SI.
In the two weeks before his death, Lewis began shooting baskets on his own. At about 5:15 p.m. on July 27, while engaged in a nonstrenuous workout at Brandeis, he collapsed. Emergency medical personnel took him to nearby Waltham-Weston Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7:30 p.m.
The death certificate was not filed until Nov. 19, nearly four months later. It listed the cause of death as adenovirus 2, a virus that can be associated with the common cold as well as more serious ailments. The certificate said that the virus had led to inflammation of Lewis's heart, widespread scarring of tissue and, ultimately, cardiac arrest. The Journal says that the Lewis family pressured pathologists and Massachusetts deputy medical examiner Stanton Kessler to omit any reference to possible drug use from their postmortem findings and threatened to sue if this wish wasn't granted. Both Harris Lewis and her lawyers deny that such pressure was applied.