Greg Lee once described the dominance of the UCLA basketball teams by saying that if they had a perfect game, they would win by 50 points instead of 40.
It wasn’t an exaggeration. Those Bruins won national championships in 1972 and ’73 under coach John Wooden while amassing most of a record 88-game winning streak that would end the following season.
A cerebral 6-foot-1 guard known for lobbing big Bill Walton, Lee was mostly a complementary piece while surrounded by seven future NBA players. He started his first two seasons on the varsity team before coming off the bench as a senior.
But his greatest professional success came on the sand, not the hardwood, as he split his time between basketball and volleyball careers. Lee won a record 13 consecutive professional beach volleyball tournament titles from 1975 to 1976 with partner Jim Menges, another former Bruin. Lee said one of the things that drew him to volleyball was that it had a bigger impact on his team’s performance.
“If I played bad volleyball, I was out,” Lee once told the Times. “If you made mistakes, you were history.”
After years of declining health, Lee died Wednesday at a San Diego hospital of an infection related to an immune disorder, his older brother John said. It was 70.
Greg Lee had dealt with several health problems in his later years, including neuropathy and a heart valve that required replacement.
“He had a very glorious front nine,” John Lee said of his brother’s life, “but the back nine was full of problems.”
Walton was among 10 former UCLA athletes who signed a letter calling for Lee’s posthumous induction into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame, citing his status as a three-time Academic All-American and his all-time record 14 game assists of the 1973 NCAA championship against Memphis.
“Greg was the epitome of the UCLA John Wooden dynasty,” the letter reads. “A great player, teammate and student, Greg sacrificed individual stats to ensure team success as much as any player in UCLA history.”
Greg Lee grew up in the San Fernando Valley and played at Reseda High for his father, Marvin, a former UCLA center coached by Wilbur Jones. Greg Lee was a punter his senior year of high school and a two-time Los Angeles City Section player of the year, making him a natural recruit for the Bruins. Last month, he was selected for induction into the City Hall of Fame.
Unlike Menges, his pro volleyball partner who won two national championships at UCLA, Lee did not play the sport while in college. The duo met while playing beach volleyball with friends in 1972 and worked together occasionally before playing together full-time when their respective college careers ended.
Their 13-tournament hitting streak was later matched by two other former Bruins: Kartz Kiraly and Kent Steffes.
Lee’s professional basketball career included brief stints with the ABA’s San Diego Conquistadors and the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, where he was reunited with Walton. Lee also played four seasons in West Germany.
Later, he taught fast math and coached basketball for many years at San Diego’s Clairemont High, the school that inspired Cameron Crowe’s movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Lee is survived by his wife, Lisa, son Ethan and daughter Jessamyn Feves in addition to his brother. They were all by his hospital this week, Lisa holding his hand while Ethan played Neil Young’s ‘Thrasher’ on his guitar, while Greg sang through a medicated haze until he passed out for the last time .
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.