Two years ago, Kirk Lee was on a patio in Sausalito over looking over Angel Island smoking from a crack pipe when he got a call from God.
Lee said God gave him two choices: Lee could return to playing college basketball and show what God can do in one’s life, or continue the road of using drugs and be dead by the age of 50.
“So I put the crack pipe down,” Lee said. “And I began this journey of pursuing what God had told me: to use the tools and gifts given to me to give inspiration and hope to others.”
Born in San Francisco in 1962, Lee grew up in Santa Ynez and went to Allan Hancock College in northern Santa Barbara where he played basketball.
After college, Lee spent four years in the U. S. Coast guard and later went to work in the hotel industry.
The time was fraught with 30 years of alcohol and crack cocaine use, and Lee decided it was time check into rehab.
With fiancée Mary Steiner at his side, Lee checked into a veteran’s rehabilitation center in Menlo Park.
As he ran his first lap around the rehab building, he decided that would be the day it all began, he recalled. Working on restoring his body and staying in rehab, Lee got a job sweeping floors at a Goodwill warehouse.
“I wanted to start from scratch,” said Lee. “I didn’t want to get everything back right away and lose it again. I wanted to make sure I was on solid ground.”
Lee, 48 at the time, first stepped foot in De Anza College on Dec. 23, 2010, when he, Steiner and friends visited the Flint Center to watch Lee’s uncle, world renown singer Johnny Mathis, perform.
At that time, Lee had been out of rehab for four months but had not decided yet as to where he wanted to carry out his goals.
Standing in front of the Flint Center after the concert, Steiner turned to Lee and said, “Why not do it here?
If this college is good enough for your uncle to sing at, then it’s good enough for you to play basketball at.”
After talking to head coach Jason Damjanovic and finding out about tryouts, Lee started to practice.
He joined a YMCA and from January 2011 to Spring 2012, he shot the ball while Steiner rebounded.
At tryouts for the 2012-13 season, Lee, 50, did not make the cut, but was given another option.
Damjanovic said that Lee had made such an impression on him that he asked Lee to remain in the program.
So Lee enrolled in the men’s basketball class (PE 44M) and accepted the position as director of basketball operations.
Lee went from rolling out the basketballs and getting the guys ready for practice to providing the team with towels and Gatorades and becoming the person team members could turn to for guidance.
“He’s like a father figure to the guys,” Damjanovic said. “And an inspiration to me.”
Lee said he always thought basketball would be the end of the journey, but now he realizes that it is just the beginning.
He said he knew that if he had kept using drugs, he would be dead. And though Lee may not know why he was chosen, he chose to listen and he said he’s here today because of it.
Lee has Steiner at his side and his family standing behind him.
“They never abandoned me,” he said. “My brother … he’s happy to see his younger brother doing well … I got to see my sister … they’re proud of me and I love that.”
“A lot of repair has been done,” Steiner added.
Leaning forward in his chair, Lee said that everybody gets knocked down, but it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down. What matters is how many times you are willing to get back up.
Lee said he remembers the first time his father asked him “How far can a man go into the woods?”
Sitting in the living room, his father replied “Half-way, because after that you are coming out.”
Lee said that analogy is a lot like life, where you go through stages. Keep going and you will get through it. That’s his message to anyone who is willing to listen.
“I want them to know someone just like them did it. Not someone that they see on TV,” Lee said. “Just a man deciding to turn his life around.”
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