"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.