Lee saw a lot in his first five N.B.A. seasons and, after unexpectedly announcing his retirement on Nov. 19, he spoke with great fondness about much of that time. He is understandably proud of his rise from the 30th overall draft pick in 2005 to the Knicks’ captaincy and of eventually halting the Knicks’ eight-season drought without an All-Star. D’Antoni nudged Lee to a new level when he seized on the young forward’s passing ability, making him an efficient double-double specialist who could also operate from the elbow as a decision-maker.
Lee’s experience as an observant rookie helped greatly when it was time to decide to play on or to walk away at age 34. On his first Knicks team, as part of the impossible-to-please Larry Brown’s disastrously brief coaching spell in the Gotham hot seat, Lee was surrounded by big-name veterans either in decline or barely hanging onto their N.B.A. existence. To name just a few: Stephon Marbury, Penny Hardaway and Steve Francis.
“I kind of told myself then that I wanted to go out on my terms if I ever had the chance,” Lee said. “That’s not to disrespect anybody that chooses to do that. Everybody’s different, and I wanted to do it my way.”
Lee, mind you, is the first to admit that it was far easier for him to exit early, because he had already won the championship that so many players in their 30s feel compelled to keep chasing.
He won it in 2014-15, in the last of his five seasons with the Golden State Warriors. Lee’s hamstring injury in training camp opened the lineup spot that the inimitably loquacious and versatile Draymond Green has never relinquished, but Warriors fans will remember Lee as the first marquee acquisition of the Joe Lacob/Peter Guber ownership era, as Stephen Curry’s good buddy and as Golden State’s first All-Star after a drought of 15 seasons.
You can look it up: For all of his supposed defensive liabilities, Lee in 2010 became the Knicks’ first All-Star since Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston in 2001, then in 2013 became the Warriors’ first All-Star since, again, Sprewell in 1997.
But it is the title, Lee said, that “changes everything.”
“To retire without having a championship, I think there would really be something missing,” he added. “And…