Jon Teitel's "Forgotten Legends" Series: Marquette Great Butch Lee

    
March 2nd, 2011

In the latest installment in his "Forgotten Legends" interview series, CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Marquette great Butch Lee. Lee was a two-time All-America during his career in Milwaukee, which included being named Most Outstanding Player of the 1977 NCAA Tournament after helping lead the (then) Warriors to the national title.

Jon Teitel: Your first name is Alfred but your nickname is "Butch". Who gave you the nickname and how do you like it?

Butch Lee: My brother gave me the name when his best friend moved from the neighborhood.

JT: After moving from Puerto Rico to Harlem as a young child, you became a first-team PSAL All-City basketball player at DeWitt Clinton HS in the Bronx. Were you friends with high school classmate/future hip hop pioneer DJ Red Alert (aka Fred Crute)?

BL: I only knew him vaguely because we did not hang out a lot; he could not play ball that well.

JT: You played for Hall of Fame coach Al McGuire at Marquette. What made him such a great coach, and what was the most important thing you ever learned from him?

BL: Al was a smart man and a great coach. Basketball was everything to us, but most people do not know about it.

JT: What are your memories of the 1975 NCAA Tournament (Lee went scoreless in 21 minutes in a loss to eventual runner-up Kentucky)?

BL: Kentucky was very big and I could not find any room to score.

JT: In the 1976 NCAA Tournament you scored eight points (4-18 FG) in a nine-point loss to eventual unbeaten national champ Indiana. Where does that Hoosier team rank among the best you have ever seen?

BL: Indiana was a great team with a great coach in Bobby Knight. 18 shots was a lot for a second-year MU player!

JT: After not being invited to the 1976 US Olympic trials, you scored 35 points (15-18 FG) for the Puerto Rican national team but were called for a charge with eight seconds left in a one-point loss to the US and head coach Dean Smith. How hurt were you when you were not invited to play for the US, and were you out for revenge when you faced the US in the Olympics?

BL: It was no big deal since we had three other players invited. I knew that I could play with anyone, and I was on fire.

JT: You were the 1st Puerto Rican national to play in the NBA. How big a deal was it at the time, and do you consider yourself to be the best basketball player in the history of Puerto Rico?

BL: It is a bigger deal now for my kids but I never thought about it. I would not trade my basketball career for anyone else's.

1977 NCAA Tournament

JT: You beat Cincinnati after McGuire and Bernard Toone got in a brief fight during halftime. Were you worried that the incident was going to ruin your season, and how did your team overcome that to win the game in the 2nd half?

BL: It was a crazy game, but we were a little crazy sometimes in terms of fighting. I do not like technical fouls even though I got called for some during my career.

JT: You scored 11 points and made a 75-foot pass to Jerome Whitehead for the game-winning basket at the buzzer and a two-point win over UNC Charlotte. How was the play drawn up?

BL: Al called that whole play from the pass to the dunk.

JT: You were named tournament MOP and made the cover of Sports Illustrated after scoring 19 points and making three steals while playing all 40 minutes in an eight-point win over North Carolina to give the Warriors the school's first national title. What did it mean to you to win the title, and what did it mean to you to win MOP?

BL: Imagine having that dream...and then seeing it come true. I see that as quite impressive as I look back on it. For someone to do that now, the way to do that is hard work.

JT: Coach McGuire retired after that game. Why did he decide to leave, and how did his assistant Hank Raymonds try to replace him?

BL: Al was one of a kind. I am glad to have had that experience with him, Hank, and Rick Majerus.

JT: In 1977 you missed a free throw with no time on the clock in a loss to Louisville. How devastating was that loss, and what is the secret to making clutch free throws?

BL: I am a master at teaching shooting mechanics, which is the key: you make or miss based on your technique.

JT: What are your memories of the 1978 NCAA Tournament (a three-point overtime loss to Miami-Ohio)?

BL: I could not believe that happened but was glad we won in 1977.

JT: You were a two-time All-American and 1978 national Player of the Year. What did it mean to you to win such outstanding individual honors?

BL: I am very blessed and thankful and proud that I made so many people happy: my family, Marquette, and Milwaukee.

JT: In the summer of 1978 you were drafted 10th overall by Atlanta (four spots behind Larry Bird) but traded to Cleveland midway through the season. Were you thrilled to realize your dream of making it to the NBA, and was it hard to separate the personal side from the business side of professional sports?

BL: You start off playing the sport but later realize the business aspect. It is just life. I would not change anything.

1980 NBA Finals (as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers)

JT: In Game 4 Julius Erving made his famous behind-the-backboard reverse layup. What was your reaction when he did that, and is that the most amazing shot you have ever seen?

BL: I grew up 2 blocks from the famed Rucker Park, so I saw those Dr. J moves a lot.

JT: In Game 6 Magic Johnson filled in for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at center and scored 42 points (14-14 FT) on the road en route to being named Finals MVP. Where does Magic's performance rank among the best you have ever seen?

BL: You can be as good as Magic, but it is very hard to be better than him.

JT: Despite only playing 11 games for the Lakers in the regular season, you received a championship ring. Did you feel weird about getting a ring after being injured for most of the year, and how did an NBA title compare to an NCAA title?

BL: Being an NBA champ is great, but being an NCAA champ is greater. The college experience is out of this world for a youngster. Not everyone realizes the work of the guys on the bench, but I worked hard that year.

JT: You led the NBA by playing in 82 games as a rookie, but only played 14 games the following season before being forced to retire due to injury. Did you feel frustrated that you could not go out on your own terms or satisfied because you got to win a title?

BL: Everybody greets me with a lot of respect and I appreciate that. I feel like one of the best.

JT: After retiring from the NBA you returned to Puerto Rico and became a coach, and you recently started a point guard academy. How did you like being a coach, and what is the secret for being a great point guard?

BL: Being a great player is about hard work and discipline. You must learn the right mechanics and then practice them. You must dominate the fundamentals: do not try to take shortcuts!

Lee is also on Jon's list of best fantasy players in Big East history.

Cincinnati: Oscar Robertson (1960) 2973 PTS (#1), 1338 REB (#1), 425 AST (#3), 53.5 FG% (#1), 3-time All-American, 3-time national POY

Connecticut: Richard Hamilton (1999) 2036 PTS (#2), 82.6 FT% (#3), 2-time All-American, 2-time conference POY, NCAA MOP

DePaul: George Mikan (1946) 1870 PTS (#4), 3-time All-American, 2-time national POY, NIT MVP

Georgetown: Patrick Ewing (1985) 2184 PTS (#2), 1316 REB (#1), 493 BLK (#1), 62 FG% (#2), 3-time All-American, national POY, NCAA MOP

Louisville: Darrell Griffith (1980) 2333 PTS (#1), 230 STL (#1), 2-time All-American, conference POY, national POY, NCAA MOP

Marquette: Butch Lee (1978) 1735 PTS (#2), 84.8 FT% (#2), 2-time All-American, national POY, NCAA MOP

Notre Dame: Luke Harangody (2010) 2476 PTS (#2), 1222 REB (#2), 3-time All-American, conference POY

Pittsburgh: Charles Smith (1988) 2045 PTS (#1), 987 REB (#2), 346 BLK (#1), 2-time All-American, conference POY

Providence: Marvin Barnes (1974) 1839 PTS (#5), 1592 REB (#1), 363 BLK (#1), 2-time All-American

Rutgers: Phil Sellers (1976) 2399 PTS (#1), 1111 REB (#1), 2-time All-American

Seton Hall: Nick Werkman (1964) 2273 PTS (#2), 1036 REB (#4), 2-time All-American

South Florida: Charlie Bradley (1985) 2319 PTS (#1), 80.7 FT% (#4), conference POY

St. John's: Chris Mullin (1985) 2440 PTS (#2), 449 AST (#4), 213 STL (#3), 84.7 FT% (#1), 3-time All-American, 3-time conference POY, national POY

Syracuse: Derrick Coleman (1990) 2143 PTS (#2), 1537 REB (#1), 319 BLK (#3), 2-time All-American, conference POY, national POY

Villanova: Howard Porter (1971) 2026 PTS (#5), 1325 REB (#1), 3-time All-American

West Virginia: Jerry West (1960) 2309 PTS (#1), 1240 REB (#1), 3-time All-American, 2-time conference POY