L.A.'s Ultimate Basketball Player
Raymond Lewis is considered by many to be one of the greatest basketball players ever! (Who, you might ask yourself?) Raymond Lewis, a name well known in the Los Angeles area in the early seventies and eighties, and to this day is still considered L.A.'s Ultimate Basketball Player.
Lewis, a 6-foot-1-inch, cat-quick guard with unlimited shooting range and superb ball-handling skills, also played the point position with splendid court vision and was blessed with supernatural agility. He could change directions as fast as he could think it. While weaving through a full-court press, he could easily score a lay-up or fire a 90-foot pass hitting a down court teammate.
Regarded as a God out on the asphalt-covered basketball playgrounds, Lewis was viewed as perhaps the greatest pure shooter in Southern California history. Every time he stepped out on the court to play one-on-one games he would drill however many baskets needed in a row and walk off with not only a win, but his opponent's pride, and praise at the same time.
Raymond Lewis is the standard for playground hoops in Los Angeles and maybe even the world. He took on the 30 best street ballers in L.A. in a single day, and he wiped the floor with them winning all 30 games. But what made him so great was the way he could destroy NBA pros just as he destroyed every street baller on the blacktop.
At Verbum Dei High School, Lewis lead the school to three consecutive CIF Southern Section championships in three different divisions in 1969, 1970, and 1971 and was twice named division player of the year. He averaged 24 points a game despite facing numerous gimmick defenses and being ordered by head coach George McQuarn not to shoot the first five minutes of each game because he was so dominant. In his finest game, according to McQuarn, Lewis scored 41 points shooting 18 of 21 (85.7%) from the floor and 5 of 5 from the free-throw line, had 14 assists and 6 steals.
Even before graduation, recruiters from all over the country were ringing the phone off the wall in the Lewis home. There were 250 colleges, including UCLA, USC, Notre Dame, Long Beach State, and Cal State L.A., trying to enlist his services.
During his senior year, he was introduced to John Wooden who wanted him to play at UCLA. He respectfully declined. Raymond thought that Long Beach State or Cal State L.A. was a better fit for his style of play.
His coach and family pushed Lewis towards Jerry Tarkanian, of Long Beach State, whom they believed could let him fly while helping him get to the NBA. He initially agreed. However, numerous sources say Cal State L.A. offered him a new red corvette, cash money, and scholarships to several of his friends and at the last moment changed his mind and signed with Cal State L.A.
At a time when freshman weren't eligible to play with the varsity team, and before the era of the three-point shot, Lewis led the nation with 38.9 points a game. Future NBA Hall of Famer David Thompson of North Carolina State was second. He scored 40 points in a stunning upset of a UCLA freshman team -- featuring David Meyers and Pete Trgovich - that had won 26 consecutive games. Lewis had previous game-highs of 50 and 51 but went off the charts when he torched UC-Santa Barbara one night, ripping the nets 30 times out of 40 shots and added 13 free throws for a total of 73 points. When he shot his deadly jumper from 15 to 35 feet, it was all over.
As a sophomore in his first season of varsity play, he ranked second in the nation averaging 32.9 points with game-highs of 53, 46, and 43. On February 23, 1973, Lewis spanked Long Beach State, coached by Tarkanian, for 53 points in a double-overtime thrilling (107-104) win. At that time, Long Beach State was 22-1 and was ranked number three in the nation. Roy Hamilton, who starred as a guard for Verbum Dei and later at UCLA, described Lewis' performance: "He was pretty phenomenal. I remember watching him and thinking, 'Is he ever going to miss?' "
After his sophomore year, Lewis was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers as the 18th pick in the first round of the 1973 NBA draft, after receiving "hardship" status at CSLA which allowed underclassmen to enter the NBA draft. Representing himself, he signed what he thought was a guaranteed three-year contract for 450,000.
Actually, it ended up being a contract for $190,000 which included a $25,000 signing bonus, $50,000 for the first season, $55,000 for the second, and $60,000 for the third. In signing the deal, he unknowingly agreed that he would get the remaining $260,000 in the late 1980s, upon him staying in the NBA which many say was a contract more befitting of a third-round draft pick. By all accounts, Lewis had a spectacular rookie camp, outplaying Doug Collins, the NBA's and 76ers No. 1 pick in the draft coming off a stellar performance in the 1972 Olympic Games.
In 1973, the 76ers held their June rookie camp. With the Philadelphia media watching the games they all agreed that Lewis looked much better than Collins. In one full-court scrimmage, Lewis reportedly scored 60 points by halftime prompting head coach Gene Shue to called off the second half of the game so that the number one draft choice and million-dollar rookie Collins would not be further embarrassed by Lewis.
Raymond Lewis at CSLA
Soon, the Headlines would read... COLLINS TALKS A GOOD GAME, BUT RAYMOND LEWIS PLAYS IT... LEWIS DESTROYS VAN LIER-TYPE blared another. One sports reporter attending the scrimmages added... Raymond Lewis is a 20-point favorite over Collin and might be the best draft choice Philadelphia has made since Billy Cunningham. With all the publicity, Lewis decided he wanted to renegotiate his contract. When Philadelphia refused, he reportedly walked out of camp.
Lewis, however, said that he was told by Shue to sit out a year and mature. Nevertheless, after the alleged walkout, Lewis was never able to get his professional career on track. He was preparing to play for the Utah Stars of the American Basketball Association (ABA) in 1974 but was unable to do so after Philadelphia notified Utah that it risked a lawsuit if Lewis played since he was still under contract with the organization.
Lewis returned to Philadelphia's camp in 1975 but reportedly walked out again. He had tryouts with several teams but never caught on. "Raymond Lewis was probably the best player to never play in the NBA," said Donny Daniels, now an assistant basketball coach at UCLA, who was Lewis' teammate at Verbum Dei. "What Isiah Thomas did and what Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury are doing today, he was doing in the '70s."
Summer Pro Leagues:
Ray-Lew, a nickname given to him by his peers was relegated to taking out his frustration in summer pro leagues throughout California. Crenshaw High, Westchester High, Compton College, Trade Tech College and Cal State L.A. -- no high school, junior college, University or playground was safe from Lewis' scoring binges.
Michael Cooper Versus Raymond Lewis:
In 1983, during a summer pro league game, it was NBA star Michael Cooper, against Raymond Lewis, the legend of the playgrounds. Raymond scored 56 points that night in only three-quarters of play.
Lorenzo Romar, an NBA player for four seasons with the Golden State Warriors and a friend of Lewis, now the head coach for the Washington Huskies, states that he has played one-on-one against World Free, Sidney Moncrief and Isiah Thomas. "They beat me more than I beat them, but Raymond is harder to beat than any of those guys. Every player I've talked to said he'd be a great player in the NBA. It's really sad that he never made it." said Romar.
A Subject of Numerous Articles:
Since his playing days at Verbum Dei Raymond Lewis has been a subject of numerous newspaper articles, as well as, the subject in such magazines like Sports Illustrated, Slam, Bounce Reverse and the 2005 novel Runnin Rebel, Soul of the Game, Black Jesus, and several other well-established publications.
In his 2005 novel, Runnin' Rebel authors Jerry Tarkanian dedicated nine pages of text to Raymond Lewis proclaiming Lewis as "The Greatest Player I Ever Saw"
Though his professional career never got started, his legend lives forever. We encourage you to click on our links to view photos and read more about this phenomenal basketball player.