Former Florida forward David Lee announced his retirement after 12 years in the NBA without much fanfare — just an Instagram picture with family and friends.
The 6-foot-9 Lee packed plenty of success into those 12 seasons. Lee was a two-time All-Star (2010, 2013), an All-NBA third team selection and won an NBA title ring with the Golden State Warriors in 2015.
I covered Lee in my first two years on the beat during UF’s 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons. He was one of my all-time favorite players to interview — thoughtful, intelligent, respectful, honest. That list includes Matt Walsh, nearly the entire 2006-07 roster, Chandler Parsons, Patric Young, Canyon Barry and Chris Chiozza.
Lee was up and down the first season I covered him in 2003-04 because he had spent the prior summer bulking up with a personal trainer in St. Louis. It took away his agility and explosiveness (remember, Lee won the dunk contest at the McDonald’s All-American game in 2001). The following season, Lee slimmed down and with Walsh and Anthony Roberson (and the 04s coming off the bench) helped lead the Gators to their first SEC Tournament title in school history in 2005. The Gators wound up losing in the Round of 32 to Villanova in the 2005 NCAA Tournament, but it set the stage for back-to-back national titles to follow in 2006 and 2007.
Lee remains tied for sixth on UF’s all-time rebounding list (869) with Al Horford and Bob Emrick. Former Florida coach Billy Donovan said Lee was the best rebounder he’d ever coached. I’d put Lee up there with Horford, Joakim Noah, Chandler Parsons and Dorian Finney-Smith as the best Gator rebounders that I’ve seen in 14 years covering the team.
When the New York Knicks selected Lee with the last pick in the first round of the 2005 NBA draft (30th overall), Knick fans at Madison Square Garden booed. Spike Lee questioned the pick. But then Knicks GM Isiah Thomas trusted the recommendation of Donovan that Lee was an explosive player capable of thriving in a pick-and-roll system. Lee averaged double figures in scoring in four of his five seasons with the Knicks, including 20.2 points in 2009-10, before being traded to the Warriors.
I last interviewed Lee in December of 2008, when the Knicks played the Hawks the night before the SEC football title game between Florida and Alabama in Atlanta. Lee was gracious and accommodating as always, and remained a Gator fan, asking questions about Nick Calathes and the rest of the UF squad at the time.
I’m hoping in retirement Lee will get a chance to return to the new-look O’Connell Center and receive a rousing ovation when he’s recognized over the PA system. There were few better players — and people — to don a Florida uniform than David Lee.