Time To Ramp Up For March Madness with Retired NBA Champion Butch Lee

Time To Ramp Up For March Madness with Retired NBA Champion Butch Lee 

On this special episode of “Listen In With KNN” sports talk radio show/podcast presented by FOX Sports Radio, award-winning broadcast host Kelsey Nicole Nelson welcomed special guest Butch Lee, a former basketball player who had a successful college career at Marquette University, where he became a champion winning the NCAA title in 1977. Lee made history a year later by becoming the first Puerto Rican and Latin American-born athlete to be drafted and play in the NBA. He was selected in the first round of the 1978 NBA draft by the Atlanta Hawks. He also played with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Los Angeles Lakers, where he won a championship with the Lakers in 1980 alongside Magic Johnson. After his NBA days, Lee returned to his native Puerto Rico and served as a head coach for several teams in the Puerto Rican Basketball League.

The interview began with Nelson expressing excitement about March Madness and before going into more, she asks Butch about his family and where he’s at currently. Butch is currently in Puerto Rico with his wife Rachel, while his oldest son is in New York.  His middle son is at Missouri State University, just a season after he made history in March as one of the players  on St. Peters University Cinderella team last year during their successful run. Butch’s younger son, Brandon, is trying to follow in his older brother, Matthew, and father’s footsteps to become an NCAA basketball player.Brandon is currently a basketball player at The Patrick School. Matthew, a former guard for St. Peters had a great performance last year during the NCAA tournament, and his father was very proud of him. The conversation also touches on the excitement around the NCAA tournament and the possibility of a small conference team beating a big team.

Nelson dives into March Madness, where basketball teams have the opportunity to make history and players can make their mark. The unpredictability of the sport adds to the excitement of the tournament, and anyone can step up and make a difference, even a player who may not have had the greatest season. Nelson asked Butch to reminisce when he played in the NCAA Tournament in 1975 against Kentucky, a game in which he had lost. Fast forward to present day, and just recently as last season, his son Matthew has made history by being part of the team that pulled off one of the biggest upsets in tournament history by beating Kentucky in the first round. Butch recalls the biggest moment of the game for him was when Matthew hit two crucial free throws near the end of the game, which they eventually won. Butch was proud of his son and will forever be proud of his name being associated with such a historic win.

Born in Puerto Rico, Butch grew up in Harlem, just two blocks away from the famous playground park, Rucker Park. He was born with a “silver spoon” when it came to basketball, having been exposed to great players like Tiny Archibald, Julius Erving, Earl Monroe, and Walt Frazier, who were all playing in Rucker Park at that time. This perfect environment made him a good player. He initially enjoyed running, but his friend told him that they don’t race, they play basketball in New York. He started playing basketball at the age of nine or ten and was converted from a runner to a basketball player. In talking about playing basketball in New York, He mentions that he went on to become a first team PSAL all-city basketball player and an honors student at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. 

However, he didn’t make the varsity team in his first year but kept working on his game and eventually became an all-city player, which is the highest level for city basketball players in New York. Along with becoming a first team PSAL all city basketball player, he was an honors student at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. Butch mentions that coming out of New York is not easy, and many great players have come out of the city, making it a highly competitive environment. Despite not making the team in his first year at the school, Butch continued to work on his game and eventually became an all-city player, receiving numerous letters from colleges. Among the colleges that offered him letters were Duke University, Jacksonville, and Marquette, which he ultimately chose due to the camaraderie he felt with the team.

Accepting an offer to play at Marquette University, Butch’s performance at Marquette University was impressive as he went on to record 1735 points during his career, making him the second highest scorer in the university’s history. Additionally, Butch’s free throw percentage of 84.8 is the all-time best at the school. His jersey, number 15, was retired by the university, which is a special honor for any athlete. Butch explains he chose that number because his original number was worn by fellow New York basketball player, Earl Monroe. Seeing their retired jersey hanging in the stadium is a special moment for the person and their fans, especially those in his native island of Puerto Rico.

In discussing the 1977 national championship game, Butch helped Marquette University win the game against North Carolina and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. The victory was especially meaningful because it was coach Al McGuire’s final season. Initially ,the team had a rocky season, losing three games in a row at one point, but they were able to rally and prove themselves as the best team in the country. Nelson asked Butch to reflect on the game and his memories of it, as well as the motivation for the team to win for their retiring coach. Before the championship game, coach McGuire announced his retirement, which surprised and saddened the team. However, they were determined to win the championship as a parting gift for their coach. They went on to win the game in front of a large crowd of 16,000 people, which was not intimidating for them since they were used to playing in front of sellout crowds at their home games. Butch also speaks about the importance of their coach, who not only taught them about basketball but also helped them become better young men.

Butch expressed that this moment stands out as the biggest in his basketball career, even more significant than a previous game he played in the Olympics, representing Team Puerto Rico. He emphasized the fragility of the tournament and how easily it could have gone another way, but the tournament victory has become more meaningful over time as they have come to understand its significance. Butch also noted that it’s important to share your experiences and accomplishments with younger generations, but sometimes you wonder if they truly understand the significance of what you’ve done. Butch had a great experience sharing his knowledge and experience with his sons, Matthew and Brandon, and he knew that Matthew was really listening to his advice, when he made clutch free throws in the game against Kentucky. Butch also said that while not all young players may fully comprehend the importance of past achievements, some will use the knowledge to help them in the future, which is very valuable.

Butch goes on to talk about being happy with Marquette’s recent success in winning the Big East Championship after 18 seasons in the conference. He watched them play against St. John’s in New York and was impressed with their team’s camaraderie and tough defense. Butch recognizes that the hard part is just beginning and that there are a lot of expectations for the team moving forward. He is supportive of them and hopes that they can continue to perform at a high level. The game between Marquette and Xavier was the first number one seed vs number two seed Big East Tournament final in 19 years, which is a historic accomplishment.

Butch played for Puerto Rico in the 1976 Summer Olympics and almost caused a major upset against the United States. Butch clarified that when he was at Marquette, he wasn’t invited to try out for the USA team as only three of Marquette’s older players were invited. However, he knew he would be eligible for the Puerto Rican national team if he made it, so he played for them instead. The Puerto Rican team, which had many players from New York, played tough and almost won against the U.S. team, which included many NBA players. In discussing his background and identity as an Afro-Latino from Puerto Rico, he talked about how his representation in the NBA was a significant moment for Puerto Rico and how the small island has produced other famous figures in music, boxing, and more. Butch talks about his pride in representing his family and supporters, and how he learned to speak Spanish when he moved to Puerto Rico. Nelson asked about the guest’s Spanish-speaking ability, and Butch talks about how his mother was proud of him when she heard him speaking Spanish on the phone with her. He even gave the live listeners a taste of his Spanish. 

Moving to his NBA career, when Butch was selected in the first round by the Atlanta Hawks in the 1978 NBA Draft, he became the first Puerto Rican player to play in the NBA. He was proud to represent his family, neighborhood, fans, and all the people who helped him get to that level. At the time, he didn’t know that he was going to be the first Latin player to play in the NBA, but understood that later on. Having a successful college career, being an All-American at Marquette, and had a lot of great coaches who groomed him for that moment. The duo then shifted to discussing Butch’s time playing for the Atlanta Hawks during his first NBA season. Butch shared he had a good experience playing alongside great players and even played against one of the best players in the league at the time. With the Atlanta Hawks, he averaged 7.7 points per game during this first season. Butch mentions certain players, including Dan Roundfield and Armand Hill. He also mentioned playing against George Gervin, who was one of the top players in the league at the time. After playing in Atlanta, Butch was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he says he initially found it a bit unsettling but eventually settled in and had a good experience playing with a friend named Jimmy Jones, who he had known from their college basketball days at Marquette. 

Butch mentions his injury after being dealt to Cleveland. The injury occurred during the offseason, and Butch initially didn’t know how it happened since he didn’t fall or anything like that. He later found out he had a torn cartilage. Butch acknowledges that the injury was tough, but he was taught to be strong in different situations by their former coach Al McGuire. Butch believes it’s all about how you bounce back from adversity. After his time with the Cavaliers, Butch talked about his time with the Los Angeles Lakers and discussed how he played with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for about 11 games and how he was able to win an NBA championship with the Lakers. He reflects on how special it was to play with two of the greatest players of all time and describes his experience watching Kareem’s signature sky hook. The conversation also mentioned how the Lakers beat the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Finals. Overall, Butch and Nelson discussed his successful career in basketball and his experience playing for two different teams.

Transitioning to the end of the current NBA regular season, Nelson asked Butch about the current state of the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers are currently in ninth place in the Western Conference and are struggling with injuries, including to star player LeBron James. Nelson asked for Butch’s thoughts on the team’s situation, given that he mentioned he’s a fan of the New York Knicks, Lakers, and Cavaliers. Butch believes that the Lakers have a tough situation, as they need to consistently produce a great product on the court, but he thinks they’ll be alright. He notes that LeBron James is a big-time player and almost plays as two or three players on the court, giving the Lakers an advantage. However, the injuries are a concern, and Butch acknowledges that it’s hard to predict what will happen in the remaining games of the regular season.

Transitioning to the Memphis Grizzlies and star player Ja Morant. Butch mentions that as someone who has been in an NBA locker room, he understands the importance of having a veteran presence, especially considering some of the challenges that young players like Morant may face. He expressed his concern for Morant, who has recently checked into a rehab facility for help. Butch acknowledges that growing up in the inner city can be tough and can result in making regrettable decisions. However, he believes that Morant will bounce back and improve both as a player and as a person. Butch uses examples of famous athletes like Michael Jordan and his own experiences to highlight that setbacks are common and that Morant still has a lot of time to develop in his career. Butch ultimately hopes that Morant comes out of this experience stronger and encourages others not to judge him for his mistakes.

As the show began to wrap, Nelson asked him about life after basketball. Not only did he have a successful basketball career with many great memories and stories, but he also went on to pursue various business ventures and even returned to school to attend Fordham’s law school. He co-founded the Harvey Land and Shelter Company in Cleveland and later owned and ran a nightclub in Puerto Rico called Cafe 149. In addition, he has owned a Signarama franchise for over 25 years and at one point had a basketball academy where he trained young players on how to play the guard position. He has also made a positive impact in his community by using his knowledge and experience to help local kids through his academy. It’s clear that Butch Lee has accomplished a lot in his life, and he continues to inspire others with his dedication and passion for basketball and business.

Butch talks about how through basketball, he was able to achieve success despite coming from small communities and being only six feet tall. He wants to be remembered as a great player, father, and humanitarian who helped his community. Nelson also asked Butch about his thoughts on the new NIL (name, image, likeness) rule in college sports, and Butch supports it, believing that it is a good opportunity for young players to benefit from their work and should be fair like coaches who also receive compensation for outside activities. 

To conclude, Nelson asked Butch for his thoughts on the situation surrounding Brandon Miller, a member of the Alabama basketball team who is alleged to have been involved in the killing of a young woman. Butch acknowledged that Alabama is getting a lot of heat on social media due to this situation and then Nelson asked Butch if he thinks it will hurt Miller’s NBA draft prospects. Butch responds by saying that he grew up in a rough environment in Harlem and that people shouldn’t be judged by their past mistakes. He believes that Miller, along with other players who come from tough environments, need support and help to grow and become better people. He also emphasized the importance of love and support in a world that can be filled with negativity and hatred.

You can follow Butch Lee on Twitter and watch the full interview below!

John Luke Chaparo