Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend Image

I’ve been a massive fan of basketball and the NBA ever since I found out in the 5th grade that I had a natural talent to shoot the rock. I collected as many basketball cards as I possibly could and watched all of the NBA top dunks and plays of all-time VHS collection tapes. I was glued to the set for any game that was on. So naturally, I was intrigued when I heard about Ryan Polomski’s documentary Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend because I grew up in Southern California and had never heard of the titular basketball player.

Of course, the subject’s heyday of the early 1970s was before my time, so that was part of it. The other part is that Lewis has become a forgotten name as far as NBA history goes. It’s quite sad that most basketball fans have never heard of Raymond Lewis because, from the footage and the stories in the film, he seemed like a heck of a player. His jumper was automatic, and he had the same kind of “killer crossover” moves as Tim Hardaway before that Hall of Famer was even playing.

Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend follows the man’s hoop dreams. Polomski starts with the would-be great’s rise to local basketball stardom in high school to a bidding war between Cal State Los Angeles and Cal State Long Beach and legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian for his services in college. Unfortunately, there isn’t much footage of Lewis, which is a shame, but it’s understandable because not everything was recorded in that era like it is today. As someone who has coached multiple NBA players, Tarkanian has high praise for Lewis, calling him “the best I’ve ever seen.”

“…Lewis has become a forgotten name as far as NBA history goes.”

The high school portion of the film is where people who knew Lewis talk about how great of a player he already was becoming, but the college era, to me, is where things get really compelling. College athletes were not allowed to make money until recently, which was a silly rule considering how much money they bring in for their respective universities. Still, those who broke it were treated like criminals. So Lewis received a sports car and around fifty thousand dollars per year to attend CSULA. It’s rare to hear about the details of these kinds of stories because athletes do not want to incriminate themselves, so it was fascinating to learn a little about how it worked.

The NBA section is also highly interesting, but for reasons Lewis wished never happened. Lewis was showered with gifts from different agents trying to represent him when he was drafted into the NBA. But because of trust issues, he never actually picked one. I wish this part of Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend delved a little deeper into how those many potential agents lost his trust because it’s still confounding to me that the man ended up representing himself, despite his naturally stubborn nature.

Lewis, in his early twenties at the time, predictably got screwed over in his contract by the general manager of his new team and tragically lost out on his best chance at playing in the NBA, despite his enormous talent. Once he fully realized his epic blunder, he tried to rework his contract out in good faith. Still, like the plantation owners of yesteryear, his NBA team already owned his rights and refused to pay him anything more than the peanut-like salary (compared to other players) that they agreed to. To both his credit and detriment, Lewis would not play under such extreme circumstances. Inspirationally, Lewis kept in shape and did everything possible to keep his basketball dreams alive.

Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend needs to be seen by basketball fans everywhere because the man’s name deserves to be in the history books for his talent/determination, as well as for being a cautionary tale.

For screening information, visit the official Raymond Lewis website.

Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend (2022)

Directed and Written: Ryan Polomski

Starring: Raymond Lewis, Jerry Tarkanian, Michael Cooper, Lorenzo Romar, Harry Edwards, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend Image

"…needs to be seen by basketball fans everywhere..."

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