The Miami Heat’s “Big Three” stole all the headlines last week. But plenty of other standout free agents were faced with big decisions of their own.
Among them was David Lee, a power forward who managed to rebound, hustle, and pick-and-roll his way into a six-year, $80 million sign-and-trade contract with the Golden State Warriors.
During his five years with the Knicks, Lee quietly became the face of the franchise. Last season, he averaged 20.2 points and 11.7 rebounds and was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
We caught up to Lee in New York for the first stop of a seven-city tour to promote EA’s latest racing game, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit (in stores November 16).
SIKIDS.com: How would you describe the free agency process?
David Lee: Never really in the history of the four major sports has there been a time that there were so many high-profile free agents and so many teams with [cap] space and money to spend. So it was very unique in that sense, and it made for a really crazy couple of weeks—not only because of guys switching teams but also just because the amount of media coverage.
SIKIDS.com: With all the coverage of LeBron-arama, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, did you feel overshadowed?
D. Lee: Yeah, but it doesn’t come down to an ego thing. It comes down to just wanting to end up in a good spot and wanting to be on a good team with players you like, because guys like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade deserve their due. They’re unbelievable players and they deserve to get that attention, but it is about trying to focus in on your own situation and putting yourself in the best situation possible.
SIKIDS.com: How many teams did you meet with? Can you walk us through that process?
D. Lee: The great thing about free agency was that there were so many possibilities. Things changed really minute-to-minute, what [teams] were doing, what they were deciding. I met with Chicago. I met with Miami. I had a lot of conversations with New Jersey and New York, but it really came to a great sign-and-trade opportunity. Once everything shook out, that became the best option and I’m really excited about going to play for Golden State.
SIKIDS.com: We heard that you went back to your hometown, St. Louis, for three weeks thinking over all the options. How long did it take to make your decision?
D. Lee: Oh man, there was a lot of thinking going on. A lot of my decision was seeing how things above me panned out, where people went. I knew that Golden State was going to be a great option. When LeBron didn’t come to New York and they were able to take those players back for the sign-and-trade, I was there. I was excited.
SIKIDS.com: Last season the Warriors had the worst rebounding differential in the NBA. Will improving that statistic be one of your top priorities?
D. Lee: Absolutely, rebounding is going to be big for us. [The Warriors] had a tough season last year with all of the injuries that they had. They basically played half the season with guys brought up from the D-League, so I think we have a great young core with Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis at the guards and myself and [Andris Biedrins]. I’m the oldest out of the four [age 27], so that gives us an opportunity for some great things not only this year but moving forward.
SIKIDS.com: So have you been corresponding with your new teammates?
D. Lee: I’ve talked to about half the team so far. I was just out there doing my physical and Dorell Wright was out there as well—he’s going to be good pick-up for us—but overall I think the great part is that we’re going to have a good locker room. I think we’re going to have a lot of good chemistry guys and that’s going to be as important as the talent that we have.
SIKIDS.com: What are your thoughts on your team’s new retro uniforms? Do you like the look?
D. Lee: Yeah, I just got some from the equipment manager. It’s a good look. I like the blue and the yellow. They did a good job with that.
SIKIDS.com: During your time with the Knicks, you became a fan favorite. What would you like to say to all the Knicks fans out there?
D. Lee: That was the highlight of my time here, building a good rapport with the fans and especially the kids who wear [my] jersey. That’s a great feeling, walking into the most famous arena in the world [Madison Square Garden] and having them cheer your name. It’s going to be something I’m going to miss, especially the fans. All the kids are welcome to become Warrior fans because we’re going to have something fun going on.
SIKIDs.com: If you’ll miss the fans the most, what will you miss the least about playing for the Knicks?
D. Lee: Losing in New York was no fun. For the guys who are still on the team that I’m friends with, I hope they can make some strides forward. There’s nothing better than winning in New York and there’s nothing worse than losing in New York, so I’m looking forward to going on and winning some games on the West Coast.
SIKIDS.com: Will you keep a residence in New York?
D. Lee: I’ll spend a lot of my time here in the summer. For the people who know me, during the season I really don’t leave the house. I don’t do too much at all. I’ll spend the majority of my summer here. I love New York in the summer time. It’s a little cold for me in the winter.
SIKIDS.com: It must be quite a change of scenery going from New York to the Bay Area. That’s a pretty long flight, right?
D. Lee: It’s six-and-a-half hours. I went to sleep and woke up and we were still three hours away.
SIKIDS.com: What’s the Number 1 thing you’re bringing to the Warriors?
D. Lee: I just think that in that kind of system—it’s a system that I’ve had a lot of experience in now with Coach [Mike] D’Antoni for two years—and I think I can bring a lot of experience and consistency to the team. That’s one of things I pride myself on is working really hard to be consistent. Consistency is something that’s often overlooked in the NBA. I think the hardest thing to do is to play 82 games and to play each one with a certain level of consistency.
SIKIDs.com: In the past, you’ve mentioned that one of the keys to rebounding is just having the right attitude. Is there anything else you’d like to add about the art of grabbing boards?
D. Lee: I think the biggest thing is that no matter what level of basketball you’re on you have to find a way to help your team. Everybody always thinks of scoring and that’s good for some people. But for those who maybe aren’t as good of a scorer as they want to be, or have people around them who are better scorers, rebounding, defense, passing the ball, things like that, are equally important to helping your team.
SIKIDS.com: Do you own any of the cars that are featured on the Need For Speed games?
D. Lee: [Laughs] No comment on that. Maybe one or two.
SIKIDS.com: Any Lamborghinis?
D. Lee: No Lamborghinis. I’m actually in the process of getting something that’s in the game, but that’s for another time.
SIKIDS.com: Do you consider yourself to be a gamer?
D. Lee: I tend to play video games during the season to relax. I think that kids should be careful not to play 12 to 14 hours a day, but it’s a great way to relax.
SIKIDS.com: Any other thoughts on the new Need for Speed game?
D. Lee: Actually, kids might be able to build up hand-eye coordination working a car like that. It gets you ready for driving, learning how to go 150 miles per hour before getting your license [laughs]. I thought the graphics were great and I thought it was a lot of fun, so it’s definitely a game that I’m going to purchase and play.