Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend (2022)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on February 6, 2023 @ tonymacklin.net.

In his last recorded interview before his death, retired Hall of Fame coach Jerry Tarkanian talked about the best player he'd ever seen - Raymond Lewis. Tark said, "I don't feel like there was anyone as good as him."

Tark tried to recruit Lewis to Long Beach State, saw him many times excel in high school at Jesuit high school Verdum Dei in Watts, and experienced a college loss in multi-overtimes to Cal State L.A. when Raymond Lewis scored 53 points against his #3 ranked Long Beach State in 1973.

Tark and his family shared some insight and film footage of Lewis playing which is rare. Almost all of the footage in the film comes from Lewis playing when he was a teenager in high school. The 6' 1'' guard had a terrific crossover move, which was new at the time. He had an unstoppable shot, and supreme confidence in it.

Cal State L.A. says they lost all the footage of the controversial Lewis playing in college. And he never played a regulation game in the NBA although he played in rookie games. But at that time there was no footage kept.

Despite the absence of footage of Lewis, his daughter Kamilah, with cinematographer Dean Proton, and director Ryan Polomski gather a lot of material that cast light on the title figure.

There are several interviews with Raymond's friends and fellow players that give context to him. There are some scintillating interviews, such as one with L.A. Laker Michael Cooper talking about how in a Summer League game Lewis blew him away despite Cooper's reputation as a defensive ace.

There also is an interview with Wally Jones - now Wali - about Lewis' dire experience with the Sixers. [I taught English to Wally at Villanova.]

According to the Philadelphia press at the time, Lewis destroyed Sixers' draft choice - and #1 over-all - Doug Collins in rookie camp. It would be helpful to have someone who was there, but obviously Collins declined to be part of the documentary.

Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend tells the tale of a young phenomenon who seems destined for stardom, but ironically becomes his own worst enemy and gets beaten by the system which he doesn't understand.

Bob Miller, the coach of Cal State L.A., got the best of Tark, on the recruiting trail, with the help of a red Corvette - one of several cars Lewis received in his flamboyant ride. He had no interest in going to class or college. He partied and played ball.

After his second year at Cal State L.A., Lewis went to the NBA and was picked 18th by the Sixers with the last pick in the first round. They also had the #1 pick with which they got Doug Collins.

But Raymond didn't understand contracts, and although several agents tried to secure his representation, he decided to represent himself. It was a fiasco and the Sixers' management took advantage of his lack of knowledge.

It would be helpful if any of those agents were in the film. Also lacking in the film is his life with his parents. Did they have any influence with him?

Activist Harry Edwards tells how most players were cast aside: "99% of them never got a degree."

Raymond thought he was signing a contract for $400,000. But ultimately, he only received a $25,000 signing bonus. When he tried to renegotiate his contract after outplaying Doug Collins in camp, he was rebuffed. Ultimately he walked out, and got nothing. The original contract had postponed $260,000 for more than two decades.

When is the last time you heard the phrase "student-athlete"? Forget the "student." Many universities in 2023 are defined by their sports teams. Education is irrelevant.

In this age of NILs - Name, Image, and Likeness - education is on the bench.

Education might have protected Raymond Lewis.

Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend is a cautionary tale.

© 2000-2023 Tony Macklin