Sports

Richmond Colt nets NBA title with Raptors

By Don Fennell

Published 12:40 PDT, Fri June 14, 2019

Last Updated: 3:27 PDT, Tue July 2, 2019

Richmond Colt nets NBA title with Raptors

Jon Lee is walking the streets of San Francisco living the dream.

It’s the morning after the Toronto Raptors’ historic NBA championship, the first ever by a Canadian-based team and the first playoff title secured by a Canadian club in one of the four North American major sports leagues in a quarter century.

(In 1993 the Montreal Canadiens won the NHL’s Stanley Cup and the Toronto Blue Jays their second consecutive World Series).

Lee is wearing a hat and shirt that remind him that he’s just won a championship, but he still not sure he believes it.

“It’s still surreal. I don’t know that it’s sunk in yet,” says Lee, the Richmond-raised strength and conditioning coach of the Raptors.

“I’m getting all these texts from family and friends, but still asking myself, ‘What did we just accomplish?’ I’m so appreciative of the position we’re in.”

Lee grew up with basketball and was part of the vaunted Richmond High ‘Super Colts’that won back-to-back provincial titles in the late 1980s. He later taught at his alma mater, while making his NBA debut as a ball boy with the Vancouver Grizzlies.

It was a decade ago that Lee took a big chance to try to fulfill his dream. He was granted a year’s leave of absence from a secure teaching job at Richmond High to join the Raptors. It also meant moving his family to Toronto in the process. A year later, he says, his position still wasn’t guaranteed.

“I rolled the dice,” Lee says. “I owe a lot to Jay Triano, Steve Nash and Bryan Colangelo who believed in me and decided to take a chance on me. Then Masai (current Raptors’ general manager Ujiri) came in and believed in what we were doing. Also, (Raptors’ director of sports science) Alex McKechnie has been a great mentor to me.”

Sitting on the baseline as the final seconds ticked down in the Raptors’ title-clinching 114-110 Game 6 victory over the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors at Oakland’s Oracle Arena, Lee was centre-stage for the countdown to one of the biggest moments in Canadian sports history. He was experiencing a myriad of emotions as Kawhi Leonard calmly iced the victory with a pair of free throws with 0.9 seconds remaining after Golden State was penalized for calling a timeout it did not have. A review of the play delayed the Raptors’ celebration.

“We’re NBA champions,” Lee thought. “It was the most surreal feeling ever.”

Lee likens being part of the Raptors to being part of a family. He says there is an unbreakable bond that extends throughout the organization. He speaks highly of players like Leonard, Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry—as much for the quality individuals they are as for their athletic talent.

“Kawhi is a very special person. A good dude,” Lee says of the player deemed to be the MVP of the 2019 Finals. “Everybody talks about the guy’s talent, but he’s also one of the most cerebral, intelligent and low key guys. I see him every day and he’s a testament to something I saw somewhere suggesting that talent is the ability to work hard. That’s him. While people are taking days off or resting, he’s coming in to do a little more work. That’s the reason he’s No. 1.”

Gasol is one of the most pivotal players on the team, says Lee.

“The impact he had coming in from Memphis, where had to score or 20 or 30 points a night, I can’t even describe. And it’s not just about basketball with this guy. I would describe him as a Renaissance man.”

Of Lowry, with whom he shares a strong friendship, Lee says “he is not just an amazing player, but an amazing person and dad.”

“I’ve learned so much from Kyle over the years.”

The Raptors family also extends to Lee’s daughter Quinn, who has been a ball girl with the team since she was eight years old. Forced to miss Game 6 to write a final exam on Thursday, Quinn is following in her dad’s footsteps. She is expected to attend the University of Western Ontario in the fall to study kinesiology.

For Jon Lee, winning an historic NBA championship with the Raptors has been the realization of a dream. One, he repeats, he’s still not convinced is real.

“Who’d have thought a guy who graduated from and taught at Richmond High would end up in Toronto with the Raptors?” he says.

And an NBA champion.

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