Lee, who went from being the only All-Star on a losing team to a role player on a championship one, was honored Friday night in his first trip back to Oracle Arena since leaving the Warriors after winning the championship last season.
Lee got a loud ovation during pregame introductions as he made his first start for Dallas against his former team. The Warriors then played a video tribute to Lee, and Stephen Curry then walked to center court to say a few words, crediting Lee for "changing the culture" around the team. Curry then presented Lee with his championship ring.
"It's very special," Lee said before the ceremony. "When we got here, we were a losing team. It's been quite a journey. To end that last year with the ultimate thing you want to accomplish in sports, to win a championship, it's great to celebrate that and enjoy it for one last time tonight."
Lee had seen a few photos of the ring, which contains more than six carats of diamonds and sapphires on social media, but he wanted to wait to see it in person until he got his own.
Lee was one of the centerpieces of the Warriors when he was acquired from the New York Knicks in July 2010 in a sign-and-trade deal. He became Golden State's first All-Star in 16 seasons when he made the team in 2013 and was a major part of teams that had little success.
Lee averaged 18.2 points and 10 rebounds per game his first four seasons with the Warriors, forming a solid one-two punch with Curry. Golden State won just one playoff series in that span before finally breaking through to win the championship last season, when Lee's role was significantly reduced.
"When they were a struggling franchise, he was a guy who came on board here and picked them up," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "He was one of the transition guys between the down years and the championship. I know that's appreciated, and I know people here will give him that love tonight."
Knocked out of the starting lineup by Draymond Green when he suffered an injury in preseason, Lee became a little-used reserve on the title-winning team last season. He played just 49 games, often sitting out even when healthy, and averaged just 7.9 points per game for his lowest output since his rookie season with the Knicks in 2005-06.
But Lee never complained and never became a distraction. Instead, he embraced his role and embodied the team-first spirit that propelled the Warriors to their first NBA title in 40 years.
Lee's biggest contribution on the court might've come in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the NBA Finals in Cleveland. The Warriors' comeback fell short, but the team regained its rhythm behind Lee's pick-and-roll play and ball-movement, which had been sorely lacking in the series.
"David helped us win that championship," coach Steve Kerr said. "In a year when we asked him to take a backseat, he handled his role extremely well. He came into the finals when we really needed him and came through. I can't wait to hear the crowd cheering for him tonight. It's going to be awesome."
Lee continued to play as a reserve and the Warriors won the next three games. He also funded a trip for the entire team to Las Vegas following the championship parade, and was well-liked by coaches and teammates.
"The reason why we won a championship last year is because we did it as a team," Lee said. "There were guys who made sacrifices, there were guys who stepped up, there were guys who did big things all year long. We won it as a team and I thought the only way to celebrate it was as a team."
Curry presents Lee his Warriors' championship ring
On behalf of the Warriors, Steph Curry presents David Lee with his 2015 championship ring.