‘Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend’ is the Greatest Basketball Player You’ve Never Seen 

Raymond Lewis: L.A. Legend

Rating: 7/10

Directors and Writers: Ryan Polomski and Dean Prator

Style: Documentary

Time: 82 minutes

Trailer: www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NzNpikx070

Review by Mike Szymanski

Los Angeles is definitely a city of secrets and after more than three decades here, I’m constantly finding out more about the people and potential stars that came from the city, but never made it as a household name.

For example, it is a shame that not many people ever got to see Raymond Lewis play basketball. Mainly because the people who did see Raymond Lewis play say he was the greatest basketball player they’ve ever seen — ever. He came from humble beginnings in Watts, which previously was only known for riots that broke out in the early 1960s during civil rights unrest that permeated the country.

Partially because of his own arrogance and his own self-worth, Lewis turned down offers for playing pro because he never thought he was getting the money he thought he was worth. For that reason, the general public and the world never got to see this remarkable player in the pros or on national television.

Because of the riots in his home district, Raymond was able to get into a private school, Vernbum Dei, as part of a scholarship program that came from the civil disturbances in the neighborhood. He was quickly named the most outstanding athlete in the high school yearbook.

He set his sights on going to the NBA and becoming a pro player right away, but he got caught up in school scandals at Cal State Los Angeles that the famed sports journalist Howard Cosell investigated. The recruiting efforts became unscrupulous and the players were taking classes that they never had to attend.

Meanwhile, Raymond Lewis had a nickname of “Mr. Basketball” because of his incredible playing and unbelievable three-point shots.

Ramond Lewis interviewed by Bryant Gumbel

Although he never went to school, and had no desire to, Raymond was on the Dean’s List for good grades and drove around in a Corvette that got 50 parking tickets a month but someone was always taking care of it. He turned down pro contracts because he was making more money in college than they were offering him to go pro. That scandal ended up changing the way things were done in colleges forever.

At 23 years old, this remarkable player made it to the first draft, but he never played in the NBA. His decisions and his story was covered by many people, including old clips of famed broadcaster Bryant Gumbel in his early years.

His coaches, fellow players, friends and even his own daughter are interviewed and say that Raymond was a victim of his own ego, and that kept him from fulfilling his dream of becoming a pro player.

Director and writer Ryan Polomski said, “I stumbled upon the legend of Raymond Lewis soon after I moved to Los Angeles in 2013. I had been laid off from a TV job — or ‘wrapped’ as I learned they like to call it in Hollywood — and I was looking to get back to both my filmmaking and personal roots. Sitting in a dingy coffee shop with my laptop, I began researching the basketball history of this new city.”

The director always loved basketball and stumbled across a website by Dean Prator about Lewis and they soon became film partners. Polomski said, “I immediately connected to this unknown superstar waiting to be discovered.”

They uncovered a lot of things together and daughter Kamilah also serves as producer on the project.

“Like Raymond himself, we hope this film represents the bravery, persistence, and courage of all those who seek out their dreams, no matter the odds,” the director says. “We also hope the film connects with students of history and those that believe in the intrinsic value of setting the record straight.”

“Raymond refused to say anyone was better than him,” one of his friends would say.

He was destined for NBA stardom and was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the 1973 NBA draft as a college sophomore. However, after an epic on-the-court battle with the team’s other first-round pick, Olympic star Doug Collins, and the ugly contract dispute that followed. Then, when he went to another team to start the general manager of the 76ers put a stop to it in 1973.

Lewis’s daughter Kamilah in front of their former family home

Pat Williams, the general manager said his team retained Raymond’s rights, “And if he’s going to become a terrific player, let be in Philadelphia. We let the world know Raymond belonged to us, he was our property.”

Raymond’s supporters thought he was blackballed from pro basketball. The story is told from all sides of the story including NCAA Hall of Fame coach Jerry Tarkanian, former L.A. Laker Michael Cooper, Nike Marketing Icon Sonny Vaccaro, NCAA College Coach Lorenzo Romar, and Civil Rights icon Dr. Harry Edwards and more.

This movie is a finalist in the prestigious Ken Burns / Library of Congress award for Best Documentary 2022.

It is sad story, that ended when he got sick and had to have his leg amputated in February 2001. Despite encouragement from his family, he did not want to live that was and said he could no longer jump or shoot and he died of an untreated blood infection.

His daughter says that her father’s legacy is the reason why players now receive high salaries.

Raymond Lewis is ranked up there with other great athletes who tested boundaries and made sacrifices, but sadly, few people ever got to see how he played. Thanks to this documentary pulling together footage and interviews, people can at least get a glimpse of the greatness.

The movie had a limited theatrical release and is now available on demand with a pending DVD release.