“Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend” - he grew up in Watts, CA - AmNews Curtain Raiser


Thursday, January 26, 2023

“Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend” - he grew up in Watts, CA



They use to talk about this kid from Watts — man could he play — his name was Raymond Lewis and he was a star at the age of 15 with basketball lovers asking for his autograph. He also put Watts on the map in his own way. As the kids say today, Lewis ate the court and didn’t leave a crumb. 

The documentary “Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend” is about the rise and fall of one of the greatest basketball players to ever touch a basketball and I bet you never heard of him.  His name is Raymond Lewis. Born in 1968, Lewis was awarded a scholarship to the newly opened private Jesuit high school in Watts, CA called Verbum Dei, an experiment of sorts, which was opened right after the Watts riots. Like most Catholic schools they developed a strong athletic program with the basketball team being the first. Lewis was part of that team and the crowd could not believe their eyes. 

Recruiters kept score on Lewis since he was in the 10th grade. When he was finally able to step into the big leagues his world began to fall apart and in the doc, which is a solid mixture of celebrating a legend, and part cautionary tale we get a glimpse into the manipulative nature of the game. 

 If you are entirely unaware of anything about Raymond Lewis, like I was, the story will still move you. He stood up to the system and he lost. But basketball players today have him to thank for his sacrifice. Lewis, a talent, was never allowed to play even a minute in the NBA.  In stories about the path of the underdog, Raymond Lewis could be the poster child. Directed by Ryan Polomski “Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend” begins the doc as hopeful as Lewis’ career began but no one can prepare you for the tragic turn it takes. Lewis was blackballed by the NBA and in his own words “once you’re blackballed, you’re blackballed.” 

It’s interesting how Watts, CA is such a big part of the Raymond Lewis story. His reputation for being an incredible shooter would not die. Every time he played on a court, the news was filtered and this was before the penetration of social media. Other basketball players considered him invincible. But the NBA blocked him and echoed back to Lewis’ own words: “once you’re blackballed, you’re blackballed.” 

At the age of 30, Lewis could see his dream dying. Eventually, he returned to Watts, and according to key people in his life (including his daughter), he was never the same. He started using drugs.  He was broke and he started to slide downhill. A sore on his leg that refused to heal required amputation. He never recovered. When the news broke that Raymond Lewis had died, his family and friends understood if he could not play basketball he simply didn’t want to live. 

 “Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend” is a documentary that beautifully presented the 1970s Southern California basketball scene. This is important as it’s what formed and informed Lewis. There is no getting around the fact that his gift was tremendous. But his life was tragic. The doc aimed and succeeded in telling that tragedy, highlighting the injustice that Lewis’ was faced with.  

And we see the changes because of his personality along the way.  Here we get a peak behind the curtain. We he was drafted for the 76ers we see how dicey the recruitment process was back then. Due to legitimate contract issues, Lewis was blackballed by important selectors and coaches but in truth what 

Raymond Lewis was taking a stance and that’s epic. What Raymond Lewis did was sacrifice. He test the boundaries and should be remembered as an important part of that era. Raymond Lewis insisted on respect and he paid the ultimate price. He died forgotten but that doesn’t mean that his contribution is not indelible. 

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