Courtney Lee's Lifetime Tribute
Coming out of a lesser-known college basketball program, Courtney Lee felt that he had to disprove notions that he wasn’t NBA caliber. Since joining the Orlando Magic as the 22nd overall pick in the 2008 draft, Lee, 23, has done just that, working his way into the starting lineup as a point-producing guard. Lee recalls the impact an unfortunate event had on his life, inspiring him to play at his highest level.
There is a reason I wear the No. 11 jersey for the Orlando Magic: It’s my way to honor, and always remember, my friend Daniel Rumph. He died after my freshman year at Western Kentucky University. Without him, I never would have done the things I have, or become the player and person that I’ve become. I owe him everything. And I don’t ever want to forget that.
Danny is the one who got me through my Freshman year of college. He was an older teammate, and he just took me under his wing from the start. I’m from Indianapolis, and college was a long way from there. I was so homesick that year. Everything was so foreign to what I had been used to. I couldn’t stand it. I wanted to transfer back somewhere close to home, but Danny told me he had the same feelings a few years before. And he kept convincing me to stay.
My mom, she didn’t help at all [laughing]. I’d call her all the time, and she would just hang up on me. She told me to toughen up. I think she was just happy to get me out of the house.
Danny made sure I adjusted to college life and the campus. He just took me with him everywhere he went. He never left my sight. He was going to make sure I stayed. And it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.
We just hit it off the first time we met. When I got there the summer before my freshman year, we roomed together. Then when school started, we just kept our room together. We’d go to practice together, come home together and go out socially together. I don’t know what I would have done without him. Yeah, I guess I do know. I would have left school.
After that first year ended, we both came back to summer school. At the summer break, he went home [to the Philadelphia area]. He never came back.
He died playing pickup basketball at a recreational gymnasium there. He just collapsed. Danny was one of the most fit dudes on the team. He was in shape, all toned up. You never would have known he had a heart
problem [hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart]. It took me a long time to get past it.
I want to make sure his memory is never forgotten. That’s why I have this tattoo on my right arm. Two of my college teammates and I got the same one. It’s something permanent, so he’d always be a part of us. We drew it up together. It’s a picture of him with a basketball. His jersey number 11. He has angel wings. And he’s wearing a Phillies baseball cap.
The Magic offered to let me wear No. 32, my college jersey number, even though Shaq had worn it. But I wanted 11. I’ll wear it the rest of my career. I never would have reached the NBA without Danny.
After what happened to him, I learned that you better live life to its fullest, and don’t take anything for granted. You never know what the next day will bring. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. I got this tattoo, a lot of DVD highlight tapes of him, pictures at home. He’s my motivation every day.
There is something else that motivates me. People always seemed to doubt me a little bit. A lot of people didn’t think I could play college basketball. And a whole lot of people doubted I could play in the NBA. A lot of teams passed on the chance to take me before the Magic did. And I remember that. It’s why I work so hard. You want to prove people wrong.
Every kid who plays basketball probably dreams about playing in the NBA. But as you mature, you realize the chances of getting here aren’t very good. I didn’t take the idea seriously until my junior year in college. That’s when it started sinking in.
Growing up, I played football most of the time. Then I hit a growth spurt and realized that basketball might be a better sport for me. My mom liked me playing sports. She thought it was a good way to keep me going in the right direction.
She was my No. 1 influence. I have older brothers, some teachers and coaches who helped me along the way, making sure I stayed focused and didn’t get distracted off the court and in the classroom. I owe them all.
There were definitely a lot of temptations growing up. A single mom raising three boys, it was rough. We grew up in a neighborhood where if you stepped outside at the wrong time of day, you could find yourself in trouble. You could get shot in a drive-by. We managed to stay away from that. My mom did a good job raising us. I was lucky to have a strong supporting cast. I had peers doing things that I knew weren’t right.
One thing you could say about me growing up is I learned the difference between right and wrong. That might be one reason Danny and I clicked so well. We were so much alike. He was older, but we had the same interests, the same personality. It really took me a long time to get over losing him. I still stay in close contact with his family. His uncle texts me every day. When we played in Philadelphia this season, his mother, uncle, family and friends all came to the game. They brought a crowd, and it was great.
Any success that comes my way, it comes to him too. And I want people to know that.