SBD/9/Sports Society

WALL STREET JOURNAL RAISES NEW QUESTIONS ON REGGIE LEWIS

     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.
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