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"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."
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.