THE TASMANIAN DEVIL HAS FINALLY STOPPED
At least geographically.
Ron Lee lives with his
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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"
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
"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
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
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