Raymond Lewis was born on September 3, 1952, in Watts, a district of Los Angeles, California. Lewis was a supreme superstar at Verbum Dei High School, Cal State Los Angeles, at Summer Pro League games and on the blacktop as a street baller in Los Angeles from the late 1960s until the mid-1980s. Every serious basketball fan in L.A., from playground runners and gym rats, from Compton to Crenshaw, to the corner of Central and 109th, regard Raymond Lewis as the "Ultimate Baller".
Lewis legend began growing as a 16-year-old basketball phenom at Verbum Dei, as he led the Eagles to an 84-4 winning record and three consecutive California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) titles in 1969,70, and 71. Lewis also became only the second person in CIF history to receive "Player of the Year" twice, as a junior, then as a senior. As his legend grew, so did the number of basketball scholarships he received from around the country, which totaled 250 including UCLA, USC, and Long Beach State, all powerhouse basketball programs.
However, allegedly after receiving a brand new red Corvette and having his pockets lined with $2000 a month, he decided to attend little known L.A. State, now Cal State L.A. As a freshman Lewis led the nation in scoring averaging 39 points a game while shooting 58% from the field. As a sophomore at CSLA, Lewis averaged 32.9 points per game finishing second behind Pepperdine's Bird Averitt who averaged a point better. After his sophomore season, Lewis was the 18th overall pick in the first round by the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers in 1973.
This was the first year of the "hardship" draft, which allowed an underclassman with financial hardships to be drafted by a professional team. By all accounts, Lewis had a spectacular rookie camp, outplaying Doug Collins the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft and a star for the 1972 U.S. Olympic team. However, after a contract dispute, the 76ers said Lewis walked out. Lewis says that he was sent home by the 76ers organization and told to sit out for a year so that he could mature. For some reason, Lewis never played one minute of professional basketball. Regardless of the cause, basketball fans missed seeing one of the greatest talents of his time. Can you ever imagine not seeing Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods play their respective sports? Raymond Lewis was in the same company as these great athletes.
What most people don't know about this phenomenal athlete is that before Lewis turned his full attention to basketball, the young athlete established himself as a super slick quarterback in Pop Warner football and an unbeatable pitcher with "pro potential" in the summer baseball leagues, as well as being a fantastic swimmer. Lewis really enjoyed swimming the most outside of basketball. He collected various medals in the sport while participating in the Summer Junior Olympics held at Exposition Park. His best events were the breaststroke and freestyle. On Sunday, February 11, 2001, at County-USC Medical Center, Raymond Lewis quietly died at age 48 from complications due to a leg infection, which was treatable by the advances of modern medicine. Lewis refused his doctor's advice to have his infected leg amputated in order to save his life.
Family members also pleaded with him to have his leg amputated in order to survive. He initially refused, telling them he wouldn't be able to make a jump shot on one leg. Many months later he finally agreed to have the leg amputated and did so, but died due to complications following the surgery. Lewis was a man who lived and died for basketball. A Lewis fan once wrote, "The NBA lost its greatest player the world lost more". Lewis's death was without much fanfare, but for those that witnessed him play or played against him, the experience itself brings much gratification.