This former Sun is living in Scandinavia and still diving for loose balls

Where in the World is Ron Lee?


At least geographically.

Ron Lee lives with his fiancee and two daughters in Solna, Sweden, where he serves as a player/coach for a second-division team.

R on Lee, the former Sun who was nicknamed the "Tasmanian Devil" because he was constantly in motion, has settled in and made a life for himself in Solna, Sweden, a suburb of Stockholm. He has lived there for more than 10 years, and he and his fiancee have two children. Now 45 years old, he still plays basketball, serving as player/coach for a second-division team called Skru. He is happy, as undoubtedly are his teammates and the fans who are lucky enough to still be able to watch him play.

That's not the case for his opponents or the hardwood floors on which he plays, however. It never has been. Not for a player who once swore he would knock over his mother for a loose ball.

"Never a more fitting nickname than that for him," said former Suns teammate Alvan Adams, who claims credit for giving Lee the nickname. "Pure energy. A human dynamo. This guy had more energy. I remember him eating powdered sugar donuts and a Coca-Cola for breakfast 20 minutes before practice at the training room over at the Jewish Community Center.

"I know guys who roomed with him say he'd stay up all night playing the latest electronic games. Back then, that's when Pong just first came out - the real simple electronic games.

"I enjoyed playing with him as much as anybody. No one hustled more, no one could cover more territory. He would dive on his face on the floor to go after a loose ball or to tackle a guy on a breakaway layup if he thought it was important. If you thought you had a breakaway and you were on the other team and Ronnie was chasing you from behind, he would either block it or get his foul in."

Lee, a 6-4, 193-pound guard, was the Suns' first round pick (10th selection overall) in the 1976 NBA Draft. The only player ever to be named to the All-Pac 8 Conference team four straight seasons and Pac 8 Player of the Year in 1976, he set University of Oregon career records for scoring (2,085), assists (572), field goals (838) and free throws (409). He was Oregon's Most Valuable Player for four consecutive seasons and the MVP of the 1975 National Invitation Tournament.

Lee's college coach, Dick Harter, was considered one of the top defensive coaches in the country, and his Oregon teams, which went 71-41 with Lee in the backcourt, were dubbed the Kamikaze Kids. Another nickname which stuck with Lee.

In high school in Massachusetts, Lee lettered in basketball and baseball and threw the javelin 234 feet, setting a New England record. He also played goalie in soccer and was named the team's Most Valuable Player. His father, a Boston motorcycle policeman, wouldn't allow him to play football.

He attended suburban Lexington High School near Boston and led the team to a 51-0 record and two consecutive basketball state championships. He was coached there by the defense-oriented Rollie Massimino, who later became head coach at Villanova and Nevada-Las Vegas.

When Lee first came to the Suns, he was simply an addition to the team that had surprised the basketball world by reaching the NBA Finals in 1976. But gradually, injuries decimated the Suns and they eventually settled into the basement of the Pacific Division.

Lee's forte was coming off the bench when the Suns were in trouble and making things happen. He was the only player on the team to appear in all 82 games, starting 34, and he led the club in steals (156), personal fouls (276) and disqualifications (10) while averaging 10.2 points per game for the season.

Lee receives the 1977 Most Popular Player trophy awarded to the Phoenix player collecting the most fan votes over the year.

H e was named to the NBA All-Rookie team, joining Houston guard John Lucas in the backcourt, and won the Most Popular Player trophy awarded to the Phoenix player collecting the most fan votes over the year.

In the CBS Slam Dunk Contest, he defeated David Thompson, M.L. Carr and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar before he was forced to withdraw because of a strained knee. In his second season, he scored 12.2 points per game with 305 assists and a league-leading 225 steals while playing just 23.5 minutes per game behind Paul Westphal and Don Buse.

One of the most exciting players in the NBA, Lee played with reckless abandon. A furniture store in Phoenix offered a free waterbed to the fan who could most accurately guess how many times Lee would hit the floor in the Suns' 41 home games. He did so 230 times.

One local sports writer wrote that Lee "attacks the game of basketball like Howard Cossell attacks silence." Another referred to Lee as "the resident body-Braille specialist for the Phoenix Suns."

Nonetheless, midway through his third season, on Jan. 12, 1979, the Suns traded Lee, forward Marty Byrnes, two first-round picks and cash to the then-New Orleans Jazz for forward Leonard "Truck" Robinson.

Lee was crushed.

"I don't think it worked out for them (the Suns) and it didn't work out for me, so I think it was a bad deal overall," he said by phone from Sweden. "I don't think I was the right type of player that New Orleans was looking for. For, me it was just a rotten deal, and I think also for Marty Byrnes. Him and I, when we got there, we said, 'What are we doing here?'"

After only two games with the Jazz, he pulled a hamstring and was hobbled for most of the season. He wound up playing only 17 games, averaging 6.7 points.

Lee began the 1979-80 season with the Atlanta Hawks, but after playing in 30 games and averaging just 2.2 points he was traded to the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons released him in 1981-82 after he averaged just 4.4 points for them.

Lee, whose brother, Marshall, was a first-round pick of the Milwaukee Bucks in 1972, said his coaches in New Orleans, Atlanta and Detroit didn't use him the way his coach with the Suns, John MacLeod, did.

"If you look at my statistics, or whatever, from the time I got to Phoenix until the time they traded me, my average was going up," Lee said. "And also, when I went to these other clubs, it totally went down. It was like nonexistent, because I didn't fit in with the club. I was more team-oriented. I didn't really care about the points. If it happened, it happened.

"But when I went to New Orleans, they were in last place and more people were concerned about their statistics than they were about how the team was going. I wasn't that type of player who was trying to get my statistics up. I'm the type of player who would do anything for the team so we could win."

Lee said his hell-bent-for-leather playing style didn't necessarily take its toll on him.

"I may be a little bit slower now, but I'm still diving for basketballs," he said with a laugh.

Although Lee's energetic style of play was only on display for three years in Phoenix, he managed to endear himself to Suns fans forever.

A fter Lee was cut by Detroit, he planned to give up basketball and try his hand at indoor soccer (in addition to the Suns, Lee was drafted by the North American Soccer League's Portland Timber and the National Football League's San Diego Chargers). He then received a call from a professional basketball team in Italy and went there to play for three or four months, but was cut by that team as well. He stayed in Italy for three more years, though, and during that time he played for a basketball team that toured Spain, Italy, France and other European countries. The coach for a team in Stockholm saw him play and told him that he thought he would be perfect for his team.

That team, and another Swedish team for which Lee later played, are in the Elite Series, the highest level of basketball in that country. In addition to his playing career, Lee has coached a youth program and cleaned public buildings, such as schools and libraries.

Asked if there's anything he would like to say to Suns fans, Lee said, "I haven't forgot them. Those are my good memories. I tell the people that I coach over here, the kids, how great it was playing in Phoenix. I wish they had an opportunity to get the feeling of what it's like to participate in a professional sport and how people take hold of you. It's a nice feeling knowing that everything you did was worthwhile.

"And I'd also like to say, 'Hi' to everybody."

Reprinted with permission of Fastbreak magazine, the official magazine of the Phoenix Suns.

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