Basketball Coach Ends Long Career in Alameda

Sherman Lee -- Sherman Lee with some of his players after a basketball clinic in Alameda.

Basketball Coach Ends Long Career in Alameda

After more than 40 years of coaching in Alameda, coach Sherman Lee has decided to hang up his whistle.

Lee, an Encinal High School (EHS) Class of 1981 graduate, began his coaching career months after his high school graduation. He joined the EHS basketball team coaching staff as an assistant coach. He was on the staff that coached nine-year NBA veteran Isaiah Rider. Lee has coached in several sports, but the basketball court, indoor and outdoor, is where he spent most of his time as a coach.

In recent years Lee has conducted dozens of basketball clinics for Alameda youth through his popular Defend the Rim clinics. The clinic started in 2005 in Southern California, and he brought it to Alameda in 2013. Lee credits his nephew for coining the Defend the Rim name. Lee has held more than 30 Defend the Rim clinics in Alameda, most at Littlejohn Park.

Along with coaching kids trying to earn a spot on their youth basketball teams, Lee has used his Defend the Rim clinics to instill confidence in the less fortunate. Lee has conducted clinics for kids living in Alameda Housing Authority properties and adult members of Alameda’s Ala Costa Center, an organization that offers services to children and adults with developmental disabilities.

“Some of my favorite memories is seeing how happy those people got just making a layup,” said Lee.

Lee has always believed that coaching is more than just teaching people how to play a sport. He used basketball to teach young people life lessons.

“I tried to teach our kids to be good citizens, be good to their parents, and to believe they can achieve their basketball and life goals,” said Lee.

Lee’s style of coaching has been praised by his former players and their parents.

“My son has been attending Defend the Rim since fourth grade,” said Vanessa Yingling, whose son Nick is now a junior in high school. “Sherman is 100% dedicated to the kids and their development both on and off the court. Nick enjoyed playing against the older kids when he was younger, it helped him gain confidence and increase his skills. We will miss Defend the Rim at Littlejohn Park.”

Coaching was an easy transition for Lee. He watched his dad, Sherman Lee Sr., coach when he was a young boy. Lee Sr., who graduated from EHS in 1957 — he was a teammate of MLB Hall-of-Famer Willie Stargell — coached Alameda teams in Pop Warner and Babe Ruth All Stars. Lee's grandparents moved to Alameda in 1942.

Lee is giving up coaching for health and travel reasons. In 2016, after experiencing chest pain he went to the doctor. They told him the pain was caused by heart disease. The doctor recommended placing a stent in his chest — a stent is a small mesh tube placed into a narrowed coronary artery to improve blood flow, which reduces or eliminates symptoms of chest pain. In 2017, he had a second stent placed in his chest and in 2018 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Despite his health struggles, Lee continued coaching.

“I would say it was the kids that kept me going,” said Lee. "Also, my faith in Jehovah God and my wife and family. When people go through that type of stuff I went through with the stents and the cancer, they have to have something to keep them moving forward and that's what helped me.”

Lee went through 48 chemotherapy sessions and his cancer is in remission.

But he decided that with the health struggles and the commute to Alameda — he moved to Sacramento in 2016 — it was time to leave coaching behind.

“It’s hard to say goodbye,” said Lee.

Before he leaves Alameda, a group of friends, family members, former players and their parents will hold a celebration for Lee thanking him for his hard work.

“I can’t wait to hug everyone and tell them that I’ll miss them,” said Lee.

The celebration will take place Saturday, Sept. 24, at Littlejohn Park. The celebration was originally scheduled for Sept. 17, but was postponed after Lee contracted COVID.

Sherman Lee   Sherman Lee with first grader Cameron at one of his basketball clinics.