By virtue of playing for the Golden State Warriors, Damion Lee rubs elbows on a daily basis with Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and coach Steve Kerr, and has challenged NBA standouts such as the Boston Celtics’ Kyrie Irving and Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons.
And after marrying Sydel Curry, younger sister of Steph and Seth and daughter of Dell, in September, he also happens to be part of one of the most famous families in basketball.
So Lee does not get starstruck often. But when the Baltimore native and Calvert Hall graduate, and the rest of the Warriors, met former President Barack Obama just hours before their game at the Washington Wizards on Jan. 24, he found himself a little speechless.
“I was definitely in awe,” he recently said with a chuckle. “That rarely happens. It was amazing. I wish I had more time just to pick his brain on his thoughts and everything, how it is, how tough it was and what he’s doing now.”
Lee, 26, still remembers when Obama was elected in 2008 and how he, as a junior, arrived at Calvert Hall to a student body buzzing with excitement about the newly elected president. Asked if being introduced to Obama met his expectations, Lee said: “Everything that you hear is true. You’re there, and you’re in awe and sort of at a loss for words.”
That meeting has been one of several highlights for the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Lee over the past eight months. Signed by Golden State to a two-way contract in July, Lee entered this weekend having played in 27 games this season. He scored a season-high 13 points in his fifth game, a three-point loss at the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 17, and matched that total four days later in a 28-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Lee proved instrumental in a three-point win at the Philadelphia 76ers on March 2, when he connected on four of five 3-pointers for 12 points with Klay Thompson sitting out because of right knee soreness.
Lee’s prowess is not exactly shocking to the Warriors, who have watched him average 20.3 points and 6.0 rebounds in 24 starts this season for their G League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors. But that has not diminished his contributions to Golden State, according to assistant coach Willie Green.
“He’s been tremendous for us,” said Green, a former shooting guard who played 12 seasons in the NBA. “Coming in, he’s not afraid of the moment. He’s hit big shots for us, and he’s a big guard that can guard multiple positions. We just like the energy that he brings to our team.”
Since then, however, Lee played sparingly. He entered Friday averaging 4.2 points and 1.7 rebounds with Golden State, and Thompson’s return has pushed him further down the rotation. That might explain why Lee is slightly cautious with his perspective on his status in the league.
“I feel like things are going well and in the right direction,” he said. “For me, I think one thing I just really want to use this year is to prove to myself that I’m an NBA player and that I can make an impact in this league. Being with the Warriors and being with this organization, I really feel like it’s allowing me and has given me the platform to prove my worth.”
Lee has enjoyed success at nearly every stop of his basketball career. At Calvert Hall, he was selected second-team All-Metro selection by The Baltimore Sun after his senior year. Perhaps just as importantly, Lee, who had transferred from Mount Saint Joseph after his sophomore year, meshed easily on a squad that included forward Jonathan Graham (Maryland) as well as guards Kyle Wise (St. Mary’s), Donya Jackson (Navy/St. Mary’s) and Shawn Holmes (Catholic), according to former Cardinals coach John Bauersfeld.
“He just played with so much energy for us that he really brought us up to another level,” said Bauersfeld, who teaches social studies and coaches the varsity boys basketball team at Pinecrest Academy in Georgia. “We were already going to be good that year, but adding him to the mix just gave us another really good guy defensively.
“In high school, he just made a living on the offensive glass just because he just played harder than so many people he played against. He created so many opportunities for him to score – offensive rebounds, running out in transition. He was just relentless in his effort.”
At Drexel, Lee finished his career there ranked 10th in career points (1,538), eighth in career 3-point field goals (196) and first in all-time free-throw percentage (.842).
He transferred to Louisville for the 2015-16 season, when he led the team in scoring (15.9 points per game), total field goals (152), 3-point field goals (61) and free-throw percentage (.843), but a postseason ban on the program prevented him from playing in his first NCAA tournament.
After going undrafted, Lee hung around at the G League level with the Maine Red Claws and Santa Cruz before getting signed by the Atlanta Hawks. In 15 games (11 of which he started), he averaged 10.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.3 steals.
But Lee said he has been willing to sacrifice the personal numbers he gained with the Hawks for overall success with the Warriors.
“Everything has balanced out,” he said. “I was playing through all of those mistakes and now I’m still doing the same thing, but on a different level. I can’t complain at all.”
Lee is also enjoying life off the court. After marrying Sydel, Lee has been playing alongside his brother-in-law, Steph, which has been an opportunity for which he is grateful.
“The good part is, we can separate family from business,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, working with him day in and day out really helps a lot. And it’s not only with him, but Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala, the whole coaching staff. Kevin Durant is always staying in my ear and wanting me to become the best player. Guys are challenging me to be that.”
Because he is playing on a two-way contract, Lee will not be eligible for the NBA playoffs unless Golden State — which is seeking its fourth championship in five years — converts his agreement into a standard one-year deal. The franchise’s signing of center Andrew Bogut on March 6 would seem to throw some water on that possibility, but Lee insisted he is not stressed about his situation.
“If it happens, then it happens,” he said. “For me, I knew my role coming into this year, that I was going to be on a two-way contract once I signed it. So for me, it’s just trying to be the best player that I can be and show that I belong in this league. Whatever happens going forward, the main goal is to prove that I’m an NBA player and that I belong.”
Green said Lee’s fearlessness about taking shots in crucial moments should help him prolong his career in the NBA.
“I think Damion has a bright future in the NBA,” he said. “He’s proven himself last year and this year, and hopefully, he continues to get really good opportunities to contribute in the NBA.”
Lee is uncertain what the future will have in store for him. But his top priority is aiding Golden State now.
“When July 1 comes, then I’ll figure out whatever it is then,” he said. “From right now until the end of the season, I want to be the best player I can be and the best teammate I can be for the Golden State Warriors.”