BOSTON — When P.J. Dozier was choosing a number with the Oklahoma City Thunder prior to the 2017-18 season, he went with 35 — the former number of a family member who passed away.
This summer, Dozier agreed to a two-way contract with the Boston Celtics. The only problem: The No. 35 is retired for the Celtics in honor of that family member, Dozier’s late cousin Reggie Lewis.
“When I was able to have the opportunity to sign a two-way with the Celtics, that’s the first thing I thought about,” Dozier said on Friday, when asked about playing for Lewis’ old team. “Giving God all the thanks for the great blessing, and being able to share it with my family is a great blessing.”
For the record, Dozier — who dropped seven points in his Celtics debut vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers — now wears the No. 50.
Lewis was part of a transition period for the Celtics, rising through the ranks in the early 1990s when the Larry Bird era was coming to a close. He was an All-Star in 1992, and he averaged 20.8 points per game in both 1991-92 and 1992-93. At an offseason practice in the summer of 1993, Lewis collapsed — for the second time in a matter of months — and couldn’t be revived. His passing was attributed to a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, one of the more common causes of death among young athletes.
Dozier — Lewis’ first cousin on his father’s side — is just 22, so he has only ever seen clips of his star relative.
Still, “it’s crazy,” Dozier said. “He was a talented guy, and from what I hear, even a better guy off the court, so it’s definitely a blessing.”
Dozier got his first minutes with the Celtics on Friday in a blowout victory, and he made the most of them. His first basket was a tip-in — leaping and stretching to finish off a miss by Semi Ojeleye. Less than a minute later, he smashed home a two-handed dunk on a missed layup by Brad Wanamaker, then he buried a corner triple on the next possession off a kick-out by Wanamaker.
“The atmosphere was crazy,” Dozier said. “That’s what we all dream about, coming out and playing in front of a great crowd like this.”
Players on two-way contracts often don’t get playing time even when they are called up to their NBA team. Two-way deals only allow for 45 days in the NBA per season, so those players are almost never a part of a regular rotation. For that reason, Brad Stevens didn’t expect Dozier to get in the game when the Celtics called him up.
“You’re hoping to say hello, and maybe eat a meal together, and enjoy warm-ups and those type of things,” Stevens said, when asked on Saturday what he wants to see from two-way guys. “But he’s got to be ready, and we were fortunate enough to be in the situation where we could play our whole bench last night, and if we had to go into that position last night, we didn’t have enough guards. With Jaylen out, with Al sitting out, it made sense to bring him. If we would have had anybody else out tonight, we would have flown him (to Minnesota) with us. I just think the more nights you have 13 available bodies the better, and obviously I think he did a good job when he got in there.”
Robert Williams was only vaguely aware of Dozier’s family history with the Celtics, but he played against Dozier at Texas A&M. The wing hit a big three against the Aggies in one showdown (“We ain’t gonna speak on that,” Williams said, grinning), and Williams has now had some time in Maine with Dozier.
Williams believes the 22-year-old has a bright future.
“P.J. dedicates it all to the team man, all the energy. Even when its dull moments he’s trying to pick everybody up,” Williams said. “He’s a leader, even amongst older guys. I actually kind of followed in his footsteps a little, just the stuff he was doing when I first got here. He taught me a little bit.
“All I know, that’s my brother, man. He got 100 percent effort.”