Rashard Lewis Continues To Show How Perseverance Pays Off

Bobby Ryan Jr.Correspondent IJune 10, 2009

CLEVELAND - MAY 20:  Rashard Lewis #9 of the Orlando Magic celebrates after hitting a shot late in the game giving the Magic the lead against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2009 Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 20, 2009 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Rashard Lewis has been fighting the critics since before he ever stepped on the court in an NBA game.

Coming out of high school, Lewis decided to skip college and throw his name into the 1998 NBA Draft. He was one of the first players to make this jump, well before LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire and a slew of other high school ballers.

He found out early that what worked for him in high school might not work for him in the pros.

Since he played his high school ball in Texas, it was assumed by many that the Houston Rockets would select him with one of their three first round selections. Many predicted the Rockets would select him 15th overall.

That didn't happen.

In a story that has since been well-documented, Lewis was selected by the Seattle SuperSonics with the 32nd overall pick.

The last player left in the draft's "green room," where the expected lottery picks are seated, Lewis immediately broke down into tears once his name was read.

Was he embarrassed that he went that deep into the draft? Was he mad at the teams that passed over him? Was he going to prove all of them wrong?

Yes, yes and yes.

And proved them wrong he has.

The GM's that passed on Lewis are the ones that should be embarrassed.  

They picked players like Michael Olowokandi, Raef LaFrentz, Robert "Tractor" Traylor, Larry Hughes, Bonzi Wells, Ricky Davis, and Ruben Patterson ahead of Lewis.

Sure, some of them like Hughes, Wells and Ricky D have had decent careers. However, none of those players have turned out anywhere near as good as Lewis has.

However, Lewis's first two season in Seattle were nothing but struggles; especially in his rookie season, where he put up only 2.4 PPG, 1.3 RPG, and 0.2 APG. On top of that, he only saw playing time in 20 games in the strike-shortened 48 game season.

His third season was where he began to put it all together and started resembling the player that we see now.

Through hard work, and mentoring from future Hall of Famer (and then teammate) Ray Allen, Lewis started in all 78 games that he played that season.  And he put up solid numbers of 14.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG, and 1.6 APG. Easily his best season up to that point.

But Lewis' best season in Seattle came in the 2004-05 season.

That season he put up numbers of 20.5 PPG, 5.5. RPG and 1.3 APG. Aside from those great numbers, he shot 40 percent from the three point stripe, his best percentage since his third season in the league.

Due to those great stats, Lewis was rewarded with his first selection to the All-Star Game.

Fast forward to the 2007 off-season. Lewis became a free agent. He wanted to stay in Seattle, but on the night of the draft he realized that was not likely to happen.

Seattle selected Kevin Durant with the second overall pick. Then, in a shocking move, the Sonics traded the face of the franchise, Ray Allen, to the Boston Celtics for the fifth overall pick (who turned out to be Jeff Green), Delonte West, and Wally Szczerbiak.

At that moment, it was pretty clear that the franchise was looking to go for younger players and make Durant the new face of the organization.

While Lewis may have been disappointed, that disappointment quickly turned to joy when he became a member of the Orlando Magic in a sign-and-trade deal that paid him a maximum contract of six years at $118 million per year.

Only a few years had passed since Lewis was sitting in that green room, being passed over by GM after GM. Now, he was a max value player, making almost $20 million a year.

But his first year in Orlando was definitely a struggle.

He was now playing a new position, power forward, and was playing with new teammates including Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, and All-Star center Dwight Howard. He had never played with this much talent before.

He struggled to find his role throughout the season. Even though he did put up some solid numbers of 18.2 PPG, 5.4 RPG and 2.4 APG, he was not sure it was enough.

He was making by far the most money on the team. Yet his teammate Hedo Turkoglu was putting up better numbers than him.

Although he was not necessarily competing against Turkoglu, he was constantly working to prove not only to others, but to himself, that he was worth all the money that the Magic were paying him.

Entering his second season with the Magic, Lewis received some critical advice from someone very close to him.

His mother.

Lewis's mother told him, "You need to just relax. Do what got you here. They wouldn't of given you all this money, if they didn't think you were good enough."

During that offseason, Lewis vowed to himself that he would work harder than he ever had before. He promised that he would come into the season in the best shape of his career and that he would "just play basketball".

That is exactly what happened.

While his numbers were not quite as good as they were in his first season, Lewis led the NBA in three-pointers made with 220, three-pointers attempted with 554 and three-pointers made per game with 2.8.

Along with Howard and Nelson, Lewis made his second visit to the All-Star Game.

But what was supposed to be one of the best highlights of his career suddenly became one of the worst moments of his life.

During the All-Star Break in Phoenix, Lewis's one-year-old daughter Gianna became extremely ill.

She developed an extremely high fever and had a severe rash on her arm. All of a sudden she was walking with a limp and lost all her youthful energy.

Doctors ran test, after test, after test to no success. No matter what they did, she got sicker.

For an entire month, Lewis and his family had no idea what was going on with their daughter. Was she going to make it? Was she going to be affected for the rest of her life? Was she going to die?

All of these things plagued Lewis as he continued to take the court each night.

After each game he would go immediately to the hospital to join Gianna and his girlfriend.

When he was on the road playing, he was constantly on his cell phone, talking to doctors and his family.

His teammates and coaches obviously noticed that Lewis's mind was not on basketball. They noticed that it was affecting him on the court.

Head Coach Stan Van Gundy asked Lewis if he wanted to take a leave of absence from the team. If he said no, Van Gundy made it clear that he then needed a hundred percent effort and focus from him during practice and games.

Being the fighter Lewis is, he decided to stay with his team.

Then all of a sudden, about a month after this all started, Gianna started getting better with each passing day. No explanation was given and doctors never figured out what was wrong with her or how she contracted it.

Soon after, Gianna began going to Lewis's home games again with her mother. During the games, Lewis would look into the crowd, see his daughter, and just smile.

During these playoffs, Lewis has elevated his game to true star status. He has been the Magic's most consistent player on a nightly basis, as well as a match-up nightmare for opposing power forwards.

He credits all of this to seeing his daughter back in the crowd, watching him play.

"To see them back in those seats, during the playoffs makes me feel better," Lewis said.

Clearly, he is feeling better as he's led his Orlando Magic team to the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Last night, they won the first NBA Finals game in the organization's history.

Lewis played a huge role in the win, putting up 21 points, five rebounds and five assists. Including one of the biggest shots of his career, when he buried a long two-pointer (his foot was on the line), to put the Magic up 104-101 with under a minute to play.

That shot provided the breathing room that the Magic needed and propelled them to the victory.

Will the Magic go on to win this series and the teams first NBA Championship? I do not know.

However, I do know one thing—Rashard Lewis will continue to fight through whatever he has to. He is a fighter and that is what fighters do.


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