Alfred Butch Lee Jr. was the first Latino player (born in Puerto Rico) to play an NBA game. He was drafted in the first round -10th overall- in the 1978 draft by the Atlanta Hawks. Lees NBA career was very brief. Between 1978 and 1980, he played for the Hawks, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Lakers (who won the NBA Championship in 1980).
Latinos and Hispanics are very common place in American sports these days. One sport in particular in which Latinos are making names for themselves is basketball. The National Basketball Association has increased its diversity over the last 10 years or so with the surge of Hispanic players into the league.
Carmelo Anthony, Al Horford, Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, J.J. Barea, Jose Calderon and Nene are just some of these players making in impact in that regard. But at the end of the day, all of these great players owe their success to one man. And that man is Butch Lee.
His tenure in the league was short-lived, and his career numbers (8.1 points, 3.2 assists and 1.4 rebound per game) werent great either as injuries derailed his NBA dreams. But looking back on it now, Lees time in The Association was historic because he paved the way for other Latin American players.
Aside from his NBA experience, Lee has also made an impact at the international level. Lee was a member of Puerto Ricos national basketball team during the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. His most memorable game that year came against the United States. In that contest, Lee scored 35 points on 15-of-18 shooting and nearly upset the Americans in a very close 95-94 loss. Puerto Rico finished in ninth place that year.
Lees biggest impact on the game however will be felt in his native land. He played in Puerto Ricos Baloncesto Superior Nacional for five different teams over a decade. He won a BSN Championship in 1985 while playing for Brujos de Guayama.
After his playing days were over, Lee became a coach in the BSN for four seasons. During that time he coached the following teams; Indios de Mayaguez (1998-1999), Tiburones de Aguadilla (2001-2002), Gigantes de Carolina (2002-2004), and Cangrejeros de Santurce (2009).
Today, Lee continues to coach players at Puerto Ricos Guaynado Basketball Academy. He is a classic example of someone who gave back to the game that gave him his career. So when you watch todays Hispanic/Latin NBA players, remember the name of Butch Lee.
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Remember his name when you see every Al Horford rebound, every Pau Gasol dunk, every Marc Gasol blocked shot, every J.J. Barea steal, every Jose Calderon layup, and every Carmelo Anthony jump shot. For without Lees brief presence in the league, todays NBA would look slightly different.
He opened the door for todays players and as the league continues to become more diverse, that doorway will need to be widened. International players count for almost half of the current players in the league, roughly a third of those players are Hispanic.
When Lee came to the NBA, Im sure making history was the last thing on his mind. But now, he must be proud that his two seasons broke down the barriers for Latino players in the biggest basketball league in the world.