SBD/9/Sports SocietyPrint All
The death of Celtics star Reggie Lewis is examined in an extensive piece in this morning's WALL STREET JOURNAL. Reporter Ron Suskind revisits the agonizing question of how Lewis' ailment could have ended in tragedy with top cardiologists on the case. "Part of the answer lies in the willingness of family members, lawyers, Celtics officials and some doctors to sidestep the possible cause of Mr. Lewis' collapse" -- cocaine use. While protecting the reputation of a Boston hero was one motive, Suskind examines other factors: the potential damage to the NBA and the team from a drug scandal (especially in light of the Celtics' history with Len Bias); the more than $15M in insurance coverage that would be paid out to Lewis and the Celtics (negated if drug use was detected), and the potential to derail the Boston Celtics Limited Partnership's buyback of a local TV station. Writes Suskind, "Events would show that such considerations, abetted by the NBA's dismissive policies regarding drugs, may have affected human behavior and medical procedure in a fatal fashion. Whether Mr. Lewis died from a heart damaged by cocaine -- as many doctors suspected then and now -- cannot be defintively shown. What is evident: The official cause of death, a heart damaged by a common-cold virus, is a medically nonsensical finding by a coroner who was under intense pressure from the Lewis family to exclude any implication of drug use." Celtics VP Jan Volk: "This was never an insurance issue, it was an issue of human tragedy and that was the only way we looked at it. We never focused on it from any other perspective." Suskind notes that Lewis' mother, Inez Ritch, is a reformed cocaine addict. THE NBA'S DRUG POLICY: Suskind examines the "fine print" of the NBA's drug policy, which allows for no random testing after a player's rookie year unless a team or the NBPA finds "reasonable cause." Officials and treatment experts from football and baseball say the NBA has a "don't ask, don't tell" drug policy that "seems rigorous on the surface but is designed not to be." The drug policy came into play during Lewis' first examination, when doctors -- who strongly suspected drug use as a cause of the heart condition -- were told by Celtics CEO Dave Gavitt that Lewis "couldn't be forced" into a test. Noting the "reasonable cause" clause, Suskind calls that a "questionable assertion" on Gavitt's part. But, "no NBA expert was called upon." CAUSE OF DEATH: While two leading pathologists determined Lewis' death could have been due to scarring of the heart from cocaine use, there was not enough evidence from a toxicology report or any other investigation to list that as the official cause of death. However, cardiac pathologists can cite no scientific evidence supporting the common cold virus finding. Deputy medical examiner Stanton Kessler, who filed the death certificate, said he couldn't discuss the case, citing "pressure from the family and other 'Boston institutions.'" Charles McDonald, spokesperson for the MA Office of Public Safety, said his office is investigating the "very serious issues" raised by the JOURNAL report (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/9). Lewis' jersey is to be retired at a March 22 Boston Garden ceremony.