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David Lee, NBA Champion

November 20, 2017

By Jon Carlos Rodriguez

He announced his retirement after 12 years in the league, two All-Star appearances, one NBA title, and one life-changing injury. We really should talk more about David Lee.

“Another loss, another lost season, you’re not a handsome guy, your luck’s down, your girlfriend hates you…Come on, man.”

That quote jokingly came from David Lee back in the dark days of 2010, back when he was a Knick, right after posting a stat line of 37 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 assists—the league’s first 30-20-10 triple-double since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it in 1976.

As awesome as the numbers were, the feat came with so many asterisks that it looked like this: David Lee Makes History****

*it was against a bad Warriors team known for bad defense

*it came in a loss

*the Knicks suck

*he only really had nine assists

The questionable assist came at the 1:32 mark in the fourth, when Lee passed the ball to Danilo Gallinari. Gallanari caught the ball, he pumped fake, took one dribble, spun to the baseline, and shot a floater. It was controversial, to say the least:

The NBA reviewed the play, then ultimately decided that it was, indeed, an assist. The historic triple double was official. But maybe it shouldn’t have been.

Such was the career of David Lee, the last pick of the first round in the 2005 NBA Draft, full of asterisks, buts, and what ifs. He became the first Knicks All-Star* since Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell. But not really. (He was a replacement for Allen Iverson, who skipped the All-Star Game due to personal reasons.) He was due for a breakout year. But he got injured in preseason. He was the highest paid player on the Warriors. But he came off the bench. But what if he didn’t injure his hamstring? What if Draymond Green didn’t play with a chip on his shoulder? What if David Lee was an egotistical asshole who wanted all the minutes?

Lee’s 12-year journey in the league is unlike no other, and his team-first, win-first mindset made that journey as interesting as it could be. In his last year with the Warriors in the 2014-2015 season, Lee saw his playing time cut in half to give way to the emerging defensive juggernaut Green.

From 67 starts the previous season, that number went down to only four. His role diminished from being one of the highest-paid All-Stars to being a role player off the bench. But Lee didn’t mind, as long as his team won, as long as he was able to contribute in any way he can. He’s the perfect role model for what to do when life shits on you.

“I’m a good teammate. I’m a good character guy, chemistry guy. That’s all tested in a situation like this. I’m not sure I could see myself ever disrupting a team, but it would be easy for me to get down and not be ready. For me it’s more important to be ready and do my part,” Lee said in an interview during the 2015 playoffs, where the Warriors went all the way to win its first championship in franchise history.

Lee was traded to the Boston Celtics after that, with the Warriors simply not being able to afford his services. He made last-minute stops in Dallas and San Antonio, all while being credited and remembered as one of the guys who helped change the culture in the Warriors organization and, in the words of Stephen Curry, “embodied what it meant to be a Warrior.”

Lee, 34, will retire from the league as an NBA champion. No asterisk needed.