Sonics forward Rashard Lewis, who was self-assured enough to jump straight from high school to the NBA two years ago, is a young man who knows what he wants—especially on his hamburgers. "We call him Meat and Cheese," Seattle center Jelani McCoy says. "He'll order a cheeseburger at McDonald's and tell the cashier, 'All I want is meat and cheese. No pickles. No onions. Just meat and cheese.' "
The 20-year-old Lewis is similarly direct in describing the biggest decision of his life. Led by pro coaches and agents to believe he would be a lottery pick, he entered the 1998 NBA draft straight out of Elsik High in Alief, Texas, only to be shown squirming and crying on national TV as name after name got called ahead of his on draft night in Vancouver. He wasn't taken by the Sonics until the 32nd pick, but he claims to have no regrets about bypassing college. "It was my dream to play in the NBA," says Lewis. "If you have the talent, why not go for it?"
Determined not to become the poster child for the NBAs Stay in School program, the 6'10" Lewis spent his rookie season listening, learning and eating stacks of ungarnished cheeseburgers to add bulk to his rather frail, 215-pound frame. As one of the first Sonics off the bench this year, he has displayed a quick first step, a feathery shot and a knack for offensive rebounding. In a 117-106 win at Dallas on Feb. 9, Lewis poured in a career-high 30 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, spoiling the return of Dennis Rodman. Afterward his teammates greeted him in the locker room with a we're-not-worthy bow right out of Wayne's World.
As small forward Ruben Patterson's backup, Lewis was averaging 6.5 points and 3.5 rebounds at week's end, but starting with his outburst in Dallas, he has scored 10.4 points per game despite being the last option in the offense. "Right now he's a counterpuncher," Seattle coach Paul Westphal says. "But he's got talent, and he works hard. That's why he's going to make it in this league."
Though Lewis may be on the verge of hitting it big—he's earning $400,000 this season but as a free agent could make up to $3.5 million next year—he's still enough of a kid to get excited about meeting NBC basketball reporter Ahmad Rashad, who as an NFL wideout inspired Lewis's mom, Juanita Goodman, to name her second son after him (give or take an r). Lewis even shares a modest apartment in downtown Seattle with close pal Rick Harshman, the 23-year-old son of former Sonics assistant Dave Harshman and grandson of longtime University of Washington coach Marv Harshman. "We've got no framed pictures on the walls, no flowers or plants," Lewis says. "It's a typical young guys' apartment."
Lewis doesn't play a typical young guy's game. Even after dunking over guard Gary Payton in a practice last season, a tomahawk job that rendered the Glove momentarily speechless, Lewis couldn't bring himself to showboat—he just let out a scream and walked off the court. After all, if there's one thing Lewis hates, it's mustard on a hot dog.