Maxwell Lewis and his Lakers-loving father are living the NBA dream

Walking around buzzing with excitement on his way into the Forum in Inglewood, Robert Lewis was amazed.

He was just a kid, maybe 11, maybe 12, living a mile away from the Lakers’ arena in the early 1970s when he met a man who offered him and his brother, Michael, a job pitching programs to fans heading in to see Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich.

“And with two minutes left in the game, they would always let us in. And then we’d go in and get really close,” Lewis recalled during an interview at his Las Vegas home. “… It was great to see all the players.”

And then they went home with a few bucks in their pockets.

Lewis never thought he would actually get close to a Lakers player. He was just a practical kid in LA whose dreams extended to things like driving along the ocean on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Never, he figured later in life, would his youngest son, Maxwell, a player for Pepperdine, get a job with his favorite team. He still felt that way during the NBA draft last month, and then an agonizing night somehow ended with a call from Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka in the second round.

This was not how Robert Lewis thought the story would go. No, the thought of it was too much to consider.

“I’m blown away,” he told The Times. “Still in shock. Because throughout the process of getting drafted and the process of him trying out for teams, I never once said, ‘I hope he goes to the Lakers.’ I would have asked too much. Come on, Rob. Just get him drafted. And when they said the Lakers, man, I was numb.

“It’s … it’s … it’s crazy. Hard to believe.”

Lakers rookie Maxwell Lewis leaves the court at halftime during an NBA Summer League game against the Boston Celtics on July 12.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

It’s just too perfect, an obsessive Lakers fan now with a kid on the team.

“He just always wore Laker jerseys,” Maxwell Lewis said. “He had some Lakers Converse, the flag that would stick out the window. … Pencils. Gatorades. Cereal boxes. He’s got some stuff.”

At the draft, the Lakers landed a 6-foot-7 wing with an ideal NBA body and a scorer’s skill set who can finish at the rim and behind the three-point line. The Lakers scouted Lewis in college, he participated in a team workout early in the predraft process, and when he slipped into the second round, the Lakers pounced.

Through four games in the Las Vegas Summer League, Lewis has averaged 6.8 points and 4.0 rebounds.

But despite his father’s fandom, this was not a fate that lasted long.

Maxwell Lewis signs an autograph for a young Lakers fan during an NBA Summer League game.

Maxwell Lewis signs an autograph for a young Lakers fan during an NBA Summer League game.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

Although he was born into a purple-and-gold world decorated with Kobe Bryant pictures and Lakers rugs, Maxwell grew up in Las Vegas. It was there that Robert moved to find work, beginning by filling the buffet trays at the Riviera hotel. He eventually worked for a local hospital and went back to school to become certified as a laboratory assistant and emergency medical technician.

His other children were athletes – one sister starred on the field and two brothers were outstanding football players. But Maxwell? It was not to be his way.

Robert saw how a youth basketball coach was more concerned with winning than developing everyone.

“When he was little, in second or third grade, he played basketball. But the coaches wouldn’t let him play,” Robert recalled. “They wanted second- or third-grade superstars; they didn’t want to be a real coach. They wanted to win. … They used to talk to him and treat him so badly. Scream and shout and if he made a mistake they would bend him.”

During one break, the coach used a stream of swear words, and Robert had enough. He took Maxwell out of the gym and out of basketball.

Maxwell cried all the way home.

“My dream was to see him on stage playing that saxophone,” Robert said.

Maxwell took lessons – $35 for 30 minutes. Robert loved music – he had an uncle in the LA-based group The Whispers. This might be a better path for Maxwell, Robert thought.

Maxwell Lewis jogs to the court during an NBA Summer League game against the Boston Celtics.

Maxwell Lewis jogs to the court during an NBA Summer League game against the Boston Celtics at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on July 12.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

Maxwell practiced without much struggle. But when he had a chance, he would sneak outside to keep shooting hoops, bother his older siblings when they were playing, and take advantage of the moments when they went inside and he had the rim to himself.

Finally, Robert had to give in. Maxwell starred on a freshman high school basketball team. He made a name for himself on the AAU circuit and landed a spot at a prep school in Arizona. And after the pandemic threatened his chances of playing at a major university, he landed at Pepperdine — just off the Pacific Coast Highway his father used to drive.

“I was just in la-la land. Pacific Coast Highway. The ocean. And my son is going here and he fits in… It’s been amazing,” Robert said. “The way I grew up? I know God is good because everything just worked out for the kid.”

At every stop Robert was there.

“It was really important,” Maxwell said. “Without that, without him living with me everywhere I’ve lived, I wouldn’t be where I am. Just to have someone to keep my head on straight.”

Maxwell Lewis controls the ball during an NBA Summer League game against the Boston Celtics.

Maxwell Lewis controls the ball during an NBA Summer League game against the Boston Celtics.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

Early on, Robert was perhaps a little too invested, a little too loud in the stands.

“There was just this one time I told him ‘Stop’ just so loud. Everybody heard me,” Maxwell said. “And he stopped. I was just tired of it. Now he just talks to me all the way home in the car. … I had to calm him down a bit.”

Robert didn’t really settle down – he just changed places.

“So what I started doing was I sat up high where he couldn’t hear me,” Robert said with a laugh.

Even at Pepperdine, he was closer to the rafters than the floor.

“I was already healed by then,” said Robert.

Learning to calm down in the stands could not prepare him for the stress of draft night.

At one point, the family thought it would be invited to New York to hear Maxwell’s name called in the first round. That invitation never came. Later they were called up to sit in the stands, but it was at the last minute. Instead, family and friends piled into a hotel room and watched election after election.

“During the season we heard a little bit about the lottery,” Robert said. “Then we heard 15 to 20. … Saw the Clippers at 30. … And then we saw the mock drafts and he dropped to 32. Something’s not right. … It was the most nerve-wracking night of my life.

“It was awful.”

They got a call early in the second round, which was a mix of good and bad news. A team wanted Maxwell on a two-way deal. However, that team was Boston Celtics.

“What came through my mind is ‘I don’t know if I can wear a Boston jersey … but I’ll take it,'” Robert said.

Then came the phone call from Pelinka — a roster spot, not a two-way deal, was what the Lakers planned to offer. Soon after, the Lakers selected at No. 40.

Maxwell Lewis walks to the court during an NBA Summer League game.

Maxwell Lewis makes his way to the court during an NBA Summer League game between the Lakers and the Boston Celtics on July 12.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

A dream that was once too impossible came true.

“I was just so proud and happy for Max. He has put in so much work for so many years, so much time. … I wasn’t happy with myself. It’s not about me. He is, and I wanted to see him fulfill his dream,” said Robert, his eyes filling with tears. “This is too big. That’s why I never asked for the Lakers. I just wanted him drafted.

“It still hasn’t sunk in.”

The next time he walks into the Lakers’ arena – this time before the opening tip and not after slinging programs – it will undoubtedly do so.

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