When Allen Iverson came into the NBA as a rookie from Georgetown, he was a sight to see. While watching A.I. perform admirably in New York's suburb of White Plains, senior NBA writer Phil Marcus approached Menendez and started a discussion.
Marcus: Al, have you ever seen anybody like Iverson?
Menendez: Yeah, sure.
Menendez: You saw him too!
Marcus: Who the hell did I see that is better than Iverson?!??
Menendez: Raymond Lewis!
Marcus: Oh, my God, you're right!! You're right!!!
For former longtime NBA scout and operative Aal Menendez, the answer to Who is the best player you saw in the summer league action, and who never played in the NBA? was easy to give.
“The reputation far outlived the reality of what he was. The player everybody thinks that should have played in the NBA was great in a little catholic high-school in the Watts section of Southcentral L.A., Verbum Dei. George McQuarn coached him, and they won three straight (1969-71) California state championship titles. His name was Raymond Lewis.”
In the early 1970s, Raymond Lewis had been known as a basketball phenomenon that led Verbum Dei H.S. to three consecutive California state championship titles. Basketball legend in the making was at the time heavily recruited by as many as 250 colleges, including UCLA, USC, and Long Beach State! Although he reportedly had a close relationship with Long Beach State coach Jerry Tarkanian, Lewis decided to continue his education and basketball career at California State Los Angeles University. Menendez shared a memory of a moment when legendary Tark decided to part his way with Lewis:
“The gym was packed. Verbum Dei won another state title. Lewis came out of the locker room already dressed, ready to leave. He gives 'Tark' a big hug, and they walked out together. Raymond says 'Goodbye' to Jerry. There he goes, and he gets into this red Corvette sports car. Right there, 'Tark' says, 'I knew I was in trouble.' And he was right.”
Lewis shined for Cal State L.A. as a freshman. The unstoppable offensive player with great ball-handling and shooting skills averaged 39.0 points per game while shooting 58% from the field, scoring a collegian season and career-high 73 points in a game vs. U.C. Santa Barbara. The most memorable game of Lewis' sophomore season came in the game against the Long Beach State, on February 23rd, 1973. That night Lewis scored at will, causing plenty of problems for Tarkanian. Tark answered the call by directing his best defender, a future NBA player Glenn McDonald on Lewis. But even McDonald couldn't guard pesky Lewis, who continued to dominate on his way to 53 points!
“He was phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal. I followed him throughout high school. He had more God-given talent than anybody. You can take the five best defensive players in the NBA, and they couldn't stop this kid. Raymond would play all our players one-on-one and 'kill' "em, and half of them were All Americans. He was as fast as Allen Iverson, only taller, bigger, and stronger. I kid you not. He could handle the ball like you couldn't believe, just make the ball disappear.”
Jerry Tarkanian, RaymondLewis.com
As a sophomore, Lewis appeared in 24 games, averaged 32.9 points per game, and 1.7 boards per game. He shot 46.9% from the field and 81.3% from behind the free-throw line. However, the team coached by Bob Miller finished the season with an 11-14 record, good enough only for a 6th place in the Pacific Coast division.
Lewis was selected as the 18th overall pick in the 1973 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. At East Coast, Lewis had to fight for his way to a roster spot with the 1st overall pick in the draft, 1972 Olympian from Illinois State - Doug Collins! Collins became a very good NBA player, but, according to several sources that saw the 76ers practices in the summer of 1972, Lewis was better between the two.
“Every practice, every day, Raymond Lewis would kick the s**t out of Doug Collins. He would get by him, ran by him, scored at will. It was no contest. He knew he was a better player.”
The thing which made Lewis furious, and eventually made him leave Philly, was the contract situation. Knowing that he is outplaying Collins daily, the rookie from L.A. demanded better terms. The 76ers refused, and Lewis walked out. Still, he remained in contact with the 76ers, the team that held his draft rights, and eventually came over to their training camp twice over the following years.
The last two places where Menendez witnessed the greatness of a player who also tried out with the L.A. Clippers were in two of the L.A. summer leagues, at L.A. Trade Tech College in Watts and Westchester H.S. The player who amazed so many passed away in 2001.
The memories of Lewis's life and extraordinary basketball path are still vivid. With a mission of collecting and documenting those memories, the film-making crew of Dean Prator and Ryan Polomski is working on finishing the documentary movie Raymond Lewis L.A. Legend "Basketballs Best Kept Secret." You can find out more details about the much anticipated Raymond Lewis documentary on its official web site RaymondLewis.com The movie's Co-producer Dean Prator reflected on how detailed this project is
“I never get tired of hearing Raymond Lewis stories, both good and unfavorable since we are trying to chronicle the Lewis saga through unbiased facts. To date, we are about 80% finished with the documentary with over 30 individual film interviews of former NBA players, college coaches, along with family members and friends of Lewis' to help tell his story.”
If Lewis eventually got a chance to shine in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers, he would have played alongside Dr.J - Julius Erving. Having the characteristics of Allen Iverson, but two decades ahead of The Answer, he would undoubtedly make the Philadelphia 76ers and the NBA even more exciting and globally appealing.