The career of Freddie Lewis is marked by two second chances.
Drafted by the NBA’s Cincinnati Royals, Freddie couldn’t see the light of day with the regal squad of the Queen City. From Cincy’s point of view, it made sense. Oscar Robertson was at the peak of his powers while Flynn Robinson and John McGlocklin were capable backups. Not much room for a 4th round pick like Freddie Lewis to make headway.
After the wasted 1966-67 season in the NBA (Oscar Robertson’s mentorship aside), Freddie Lewis received a rebirth in the ABA. Joining the Indiana Pacers, Lewis eventually formed the ABA’s most powerful franchise with Roger Brown, Bob Netolicky, Mel Daniels, Bill Keller, and George McGinnis.
Freddie Lewis’ ball-handling skills, sharp-shooting, and hustle made him indispensable to the Pacers juggernaut.
Throughout Indiana’s playoff and title runs, Lewis was the man with the ball when things got critical. During the 1972 postseason, he led the Pacers past the Utah Stars in the climactic seventh game with 23 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists. In the next round, Indiana squared off with the New York Nets for the ABA title. Lewis spearheaded a dramatic 20-point comeback in Game 5. His clutch steal and free throws with 20 seconds left in the game sealed the Pacers’ 2nd ABA title in that decisive game.
However, by 1974, the Pacers assumed Lewis was washed up and traded him to the Memphis Sounds. The Sounds quickly flipped Lewis to the Spirits of St. Louis where he’d get his second second chance.
With the Spirits for the 1974-75 season, Lewis had perhaps the greatest year of his career at age 30. He averaged career-highs in PPG, APG, SPG and FG%. What was old age to Indiana was veteran presence and a steadying hand for St. Louis’ stable of youngsters including Marvin Barnes and Maurice Lucas.
In typical Lewis fashion, he helped St. Louis upset the 58-win Nets in the postseason. In the deciding Game 5, Freddie scored the Spirits’ final 10 points including a buzzer-beating jumper to win the game, 108-107. A severely sprained ankle suffered by Lewis in the next playoff round prevented the Spirits from making a deeper run. His lost leadership left St. Louis adrift and they were thrashed by the Kentucky Colonels.
Thereafter, Freddie had one more productive season with St. Louis in 1976, but the franchise was in absolute chaos as the ABA crumbled in its final year. Lewis spent his last season (1977) as a reserve back on the Pacers and in the NBA.
Despite his exploits, Freddie Lewis remains an under-appreciated legend outside of Indiana. But he has found himself in these waters before. Maybe yet another second chance lurks around the corner for Lewis to finally find widespread recognition.
Seasons Played: 1967 – 1977
3x Champion (1970, 1972-’73), Finals MVP (1972)
4x All-Star (1968, ’70, ’72, ’75), All-Star Game MVP (1975)
ABA - 686 Games
17.0 PPG, 4.2 APG, 3.9 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 43.3% FG, 81.9% FT
2nd All-Time in Minutes Played, 3rd All-Time in Games Played, 4th All-Time in Assists
6th All-Time in Points, 9th All-Time in Three-Pointers Made
NBA - 64 Games
5.8 PPG, 1.5 APG, 1.4 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 40.1% FG, 77.1% FT