The contrast in post-game atmosphere in the Golden State Warriors' locker room between 2014 and 2015 was as enormous as the team's passing ability from Mark Jackson to Steve Kerr.
That was never more evident than in the reactions of David Lee after each win, and loss, than in the exact total opposite emotion of everything around him.
Lee termed the "Full Squad" moniker and is generally cheery after wins and is usually the man for interviews in the locker room. Later on, we would find out that Jackson stopped Lee and the rest of the players from throwing the phrase out willy-nilly. It was a terribly fostered locker room but Lee played, played well on offense, and was happy enough to joke around with veteran reporters afterwards.
In 2015, Lee started the season on the proverbial disabled list and watched his teammate Draymond Green excel in his power forward spot. The story is written ad nauseam, Lee mentors Green a little, sits a lot, and is lauded for shutting his mouth as the Golden State Warriors race to a 67-win season and a championship; all of it is accurate, all of it is worthy of praise, and all of the money awarded to him during the season certainly helped keep his emotions under wraps.
Except it was clear by the time the regular season was winding down that Lee had a much tougher time dealing with the benching than he had let on — it isn't surprising. Any player of his caliber, a two-time All-Star and statistical beast on offense, now relegated to bench-warmer status, would take this hard. Lee was often seen in the corner of the locker room after games, even in wins (and mostly wins considering GSW rarely lost at home), checking his phone silently, and slinking away as media rushed towards Draymond Green at his usual spot in the front of the locker room.
Lee never fully recovered from his training camp injury, coming into the season out of shape, losing all confidence in his mid-range jumper, and barely showing up until the NBA Finals when he was needed to open up a stingy Cleveland Cavaliers offense. All the while, there he was in the corner of the locker room by himself, while Green and Marreese Speights danced and sang on the other side. Lee was a part of the team - it certainly didn't feel that way. It had to be painful and anyone can respect the way he compartmentalized these feelings and allowing them to splash over everyone during the post-Game 6 celebration.
I've written on it a bunch and will always run it over and over again: mental health is perhaps the toughest issue to clear up not only in sports but in the world. Not just specifically in this situation but what happened to DeAndre Jordan was a fascinating case study into how hometown, peer pressure, and expectations can play into a decision.
David Lee handled the perpetual failure of the Warriors with hard work, points, rebounds, and lots of double-doubles. When it was time to win, he measured everything the same way. And when all that fell apart, when he was by himself, dealing with personal issues as well as the ones on the court, he was still on the court pregame working on his ambidextrous hook shots. Mental health is a fickle, and necessary aspect to any player, all players, and David Lee is an example of someone that tougher circumstances and stresses were alleviated by a superb environment.
Of course, winning always helps. And even though Lee wasn't the reason the Warriors won the championship, didn't necessarily push them over the edge, or create the wing-heavy defensive formation that formulated the league's stingiest defense, he was there for it all. Not everything went right in his tenure. Hell, if we're being honest, not much was as successful as the history books might portray when it's all said and done: The Warriors upset the Denver Nuggets without him and Draymond Green was the team's second-best player in the series against the San Antonio Spurs.
But David Lee was there for it all. And that matters if only for our nostalgic attitudes towards sports and how we perceive our favorite teams.
Now Lee moves on to Boston, where he'll be loved because Boston loves their *ahem* scrappy, underdog players. Yet during his time as a Golden State Warrior, fans couldn't have asked for much more out of David Lee, at least not from what he gave, how he gave it, and how he handled himself and the entire season for the ages. Lee, the Warriors, and the fans got a championship out of it all. Isn't that all that really matters?
For more reaction and analysis about the Warriors' latest trade, check out our David Lee storystream.