Then, during a two-minute span early in the second half, Lee came through with a series of plays that brought Oregon from a 50-48 deficit to the 58-50 lead that set up the victory. Biceps rippling, he hit an 18-footer and followed a Willett basket with a wondrous tip-in. When Forward Stu Jackson made a short jumper, it was 56-50 Oregon, but here came Nixon dashing toward the midline to start another Duquesne fast break. Suddenly Lee was in the way, blocking Nixon's path and taking a brutal charge. It was Oregon's ball. On the inbounds play, Jackson passed to Lee cutting across the foul line. In one motion, he received the ball in midair, pumped and lofted in another basket to give the Ducks an eight-point margin. With Lee later controlling a semi-delay offense to protect Oregon's lead, his team won the game and the championship 90-82.
Despite missing 17 of 25 shots, Lee had had his moments. "When I'm frozen, I'm really frozen," he said. But he also had helped ice Duquesne with seven rebounds, seven assists and two blocks of fast-break layups that came on leaps high over the rim. It was a versatile performance worthy of a player who has finally matured from being "Russell Lee's brother" into one who is known in Boston as "the black John Havlicek."
Two years ago Lee seemed to be swapping one basketball wasteland for another when he decided to switch coasts. Though Oregon's "Tall Firs" won the first NCAA championship in 1939, most of the state's athletic accomplishments have come in boating, running the 15 million meters and things like that. Still, anyplace was an improvement over Boston. Until the late 1960s, high school basketball there was, according to The Boston Globe's Peter Gammons, "white, suburban and horrible."
The four sons of Gene Lee, a motorcycle cop and occasional local legend, helped change that. Now 46, Lee is considered the "Wild Bill Hickok of the Boston police" with his jazzy silver-rimmed shades and collections of motorcycles (including a purple Harley with stereo headset), girl friends and athletic achievements. A compact 5'9", Lee maintains a 30-inch waistline, pitches softball in four leagues, bowls in three, returns punts for a semipro football team and serves as hatchetman in basketball pickup games.
Lee raised his sons alone, and until Ron came along, Russell, a 6'5" forward at Marshall who recently was waived by New Orleans of the NBA, was the family jewel. The first three boys all went to city high schools, but Ron got into the Metco busing program and attended school in wealthy Lexington. There he came under the guidance of a fine defensive coach, Rollie Massimino, now the head man at Villanova.
In addition to defense, Lee picked up some of his intense desire for winning at Lexington. Massimino remembers him playing 10-point games with the coach's nine-year-old son on a short basket. Lee would spot the boy eight or nine points, then he would start jamming the ball like Abdul-Jabbar and come from behind to win every game. "I'd slap the kid up side the head if I had to to win," Lee says, laughing.
A natural athlete, Lee played one year of soccer as a lark and was named league MVP. He took a brief interest in the javelin and set a New England record that still stands. In basketball he led Lexington to two state championships.
"I never wanted to stay home. I didn't want to be dependent on anybody but me," Lee says. So it was that Harter, with his Eastern background at Penn, his Eastern staff and an Eastern style down to his shoelaces, moved in. Oregon was one of the few schools Lee visited outside New England. On the morning after his arrival, he looked out the window, saw the sun and the mountains, and went for a ride in a Piper Cub. He was hooked. "Ronnie is a doer, and there's a lot to do in Oregon," says Harter.
With a metabolism in danger of running amok, Lee maintains a hyperactive pace. He requires only about three hours' sleep. He is up at 4 a.m. to study, play cards, take a walk or go bowling at the all-night Emerald Valley Lanes in Eugene. His endurance as a television viewer—cartoons, old movies, Phyllis Diller, anything—is remarkable. He is reputed to engage in five-hour gym rat games prior to regular team practices. As honorary chairman of the local March of Dimes Walkathon, he once ran 20 miles and then hustled off to a softball doubleheader. Lee is constantly moving, pacing and snapping his fingers, even in serious conversation. As an infant, he fell from the top of a trash can while watching a parade and sheared off one of his eyebrows. It is the last time anybody can remember him being injured.
The evening before he faced UCLA for the first time as a freshman, Lee bowled with his father, who had flown out for the week, and the two made a marathon night of it that Harter still remembers with trepidation. The next day, following a couple of hours' sleep, Lee drove the lane and was jammed by Bill Walton. After that he drove four more times, each foray a success, and finished with 31 points. He is not easily discouraged.