Sports

Greg Lee passed away.UCLA basketball player under John Wooden who became a beach volleyball star


On January 29, 1973, in South Bend, Indiana, UCLA’s Greg Lee, under pressure from Notre Dame’s Dwight Clay, is looking for a teammate. UCLA won his 82-63, his 61st winning streak, and the Bruins’ record eventually extended him to 88. (Associated Press)

Greg Lee once said of the dominance of his UCLA basketball team that if he played a perfect game, he would win by 50 points instead of 40.

It wasn’t an exaggeration. These Bruins won the U.S. Championships in 1972 and his 1973 under coach John Wooden, amassing the majority of his 88-game winning streak, a record ending the following season.

A brilliant 6-foot-5 guard known for throwing lobs at big man Bill Walton, Lee was largely a complementary piece while surrounded by seven future NBA players. He came off the bench as a senior after starting his first two his seasons with his national team.

However, his greatest professional success came when he devoted his time to both basketball and volleyball careers, rather than hardwoods. Lee, along with another former Bruin partner, Jim Menges, won his tournament title of his 13th consecutive professional beach volleyball from 1975 to 1976, a record. Lee said one of the things that drew him to volleyball was that he had such a big impact on the team’s performance.

“If you played poorly in volleyball, I wasn’t there,” Lee once told The Times. “If you make a mistake, you go down in history.”

After years of deteriorating health, Lee died Wednesday at a San Diego hospital from an infection linked to an immune disorder, said his brother John.

In his later years, Greg Lee battled many health problems, including neuropathy and a heart valve that needed replacement.

“He had a very bright front nine,” John Lee said of his brother’s life. “But the back nine had a problem.”

UCLA basketball coach John Wooden listens to Greg Lee (left) during a timeout against Iowa on Jan. 15.  July 17, 1974, Chicago.

UCLA basketball coach John Wooden listens to Greg Lee (left) during a timeout against Iowa on Jan. 15. July 17, 1974, Chicago. (Associated Press)

Greg Lee grew up in the San Fernando Valley and played at Reseda High for his father Marvin, a former UCLA center who worked under coach Wilbur Johns. Greg Lee was a natural recruit to the Bruins as he was the senior class valedictorian of his high school and a two-time Los Angeles City Section Player of the Year winner. He was inducted into the City Hall of Fame last month.

Unlike eventual professional volleyball partner Menges, who won two national championships at UCLA, Lee didn’t play the sport while in college. The duo met while playing beach volleyball with a friend of his in 1972 and became partners on occasion before playing together full-time when their respective college careers ended.

Their 13-tournament winning streak was later matched by two other former Bruins. Kach Kiraly and Kent Steffes.

Lee’s professional basketball career included temporary stops with the ABA’s San Diego Conquistadors and the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, where he reunited with Walton. Lee also played in West Germany, where he played four seasons.

He then taught accelerated mathematics and was a basketball coach for many years at San Diego’s Claremont High School, which inspired the Cameron Crowe movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Lee is survived by his wife Lisa, son Ethan, daughter Jessamyn Pheeves, and younger brother. Everyone was at his hospital bedside this week, with Lisa holding his hand as Ethan played Neil Young’s song “Thrasher” on his guitar.

This story originally appeared los angeles times.



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