Alfred “Butch” Lee: First Puerto Rican NBA Player

Michael Wynne
 | July 27, 2022

Credit: USA Today 

It’s often debated – Who’s the best basketball player of all time? Jordan? Kobe? Lebron?  Kareem? However, what most people don’t consider in these debates is the actual decade in which the player’s prime took place (the 70s? 80s?). From the 1960s up until about five years ago, a bad injury was pretty much a guarantee your career was over. Sports medicine and physical training has advanced so much in a ten-year period that it is hard to truly calculate how much better one player is than another.

Because of the slow development in sports medicine until recently, there are many players you can look at through history who could have been a star or an all-time great. 

The perfect example of this scenario is Alfred “Butch” Lee, the first Puerto Rican basketball player to make it to the NBA. 

Any sports historian can tell you how competitive college basketball was in the late 1970s. The greats Magic Johnson and Larry Bird come to mind. However, Butch Lee was just as successful in his college career as them, and even to this day, is considered an all-time great at Marquette University. He is second all-time in career points (1,735) and has the all-time leading free-throw percentage (84.8).

In 1977, Butch Lee lead Marquette to the NCAA championship, where he won most valuable player and was a first team consensus All-American. He was even named the 1977-78 player of the year by AP. 

In 1978, Butch Lee went in the first round to the Atlanta Hawks – just four picks under Larry Bird. However, he instantly struggled with injuries and was traded to Cleveland, where he saw the best stretch of his playing career. Unfortunately, Butch Lee suffered a serious knee injury that required surgery. He was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Lakers to back up Magic Johnson in 1980.

Lee suffered another knee injury on the same leg, which eventually forced him to retire. However, not before the Lakers won the championship in 1980, which makes him the first Puerto Rican player to win an NBA championship.

To recognize his outstanding accomplishments, Marquette University has Alfred “Butch” Lee’s number retired. It’s interesting to think what the NBA might’ve been in those days had players like Alfred Butch Lee been able to recover from injuries the way players are today. 

It’s safe to say it would’ve definitely reshaped a lot of the debates we have today!

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