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Camden mourns death of sports legend Darryl ‘Doc’ Lee

The 1974 Camden graduate was a star in both football and basketball who played football at Grambling.

Camden sports legend Darryl 'Doc' Lee (left), with Camden graduate Denny Brown, died Friday.
Camden sports legend Darryl 'Doc' Lee (left), with Camden graduate Denny Brown, died Friday.Read moreCourtesy of Denny Brown (custom credit) / HANDOUT

He was a football star. He was a basketball star.

He also played a mean piano.

Darryl “Doc” Lee was a Camden legend on the football field and basketball court. He was well-known on the city’s streets and renowned for his work at the keyboard as well as his engaging personality.

Lee, 63, died Friday from a blood clot in his heart, according to his mother, Ruth Lee.

“He was an old head who was dear to us,” Camden basketball coach Vic Carstarphen said.

There was a moment of silence for Lee before Camden’s season-opening game Saturday against Millville at the Jimmy V Classic at Cherokee High School.

There will be a visitation for Lee at Carl Miller Funeral Home in Camden on Saturday at 9 a.m., Ruth Lee said.

“He was such a special person,” said Ronnie “Fly” Thompson, a 1976 Camden graduate. “There was no malice in his heart."

Said Jesse Walker, a 1978 Camden graduate: “There was only one Doc Lee.”

Camden athletic director Mark Phillips said the school plans to honor Lee during the basketball season.

Former Camden star Milt Wagner, a 1981 graduate who won a national title at Louisville and an NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers, said Lee was a legendary figure on the city’s playgrounds.

“Whenever I would come home from college or my professional career and we were going to play pickup, I’d go get ‘Doc’ Lee,” Wagner said. "He got every rebound. Full-court outlet passes, right on the money. He was unbelievable.”

Wagner said Lee was a favorite of Wagner’s mother, who died in June.

“He came to her funeral and cried,” Wagner said. “That was Doc.”

Lee was a basketball star on legendary coach Clarence Turner’s first state championship team at Camden. That team went 28-1 in 1973-74 and won the Group 3 state crown.

That team also featured future NFL stars Art Still and Derrick Ramsey in the frontcourt with the 6-foot-6 Lee.

“He was a super legend,” 2000 Camden graduate Arthur Barclay said of Lee.

Lee was a star defensive lineman as well. Along with Ramsey and Still, Lee led Camden to an 8-0-1 record in 1973, the year before the NJSIAA started the playoff system. The team’s tie was a famous 0-0 game with Bishop Eustace, which featured future NFL linebacker Jim Ryan.

“Both those guys would tell you Doc was the best of that group,” Wagner said of Still and Ramsey.

Lee played football at Grambling University under legendary coach Eddie Robinson. One of his teammates was future Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams.

Denny Brown, a 1988 Camden graduate, remembered playing basketball against Lee and other former Camden greats from the 1970s.

“We practiced against grown men,” Brown said. “Doc was always so encouraging. If there was an instance when I got the best of him, and there weren’t many, it would always bring a smile to his face.

“Then he would proceed to take me to task for the rest of the practice.”

After his playing days, Lee was a regular on Camden’s streets, spending much of his time on Haddon Avenue across from minister Wasim Muhammad’s headquarters at Temple of Islam No. 20.

“I think I saw him every day for 28 years,” said Muhammad, who was known as Donnie Walker during his playing days in the 1980s. “He was a special guy.”

Lee was an accomplished musician. One of the fascinating aspects of Camden basketball in the mid-1970s was the sight and sound of Lee playing the piano in the corner of the Panthers’ gymnasium.

Wagner said Lee would take existing rap songs and make up new lyrics.

“He would tell me, ‘Milt, I got one hot off the wax,’ ” Wagner said. “The lyrics would fit perfect. He was so gifted. We lost a great one.”