Boston Globe: Butler’s new book spins a cautionary tale


Some players wait until they reach the NBA — until they make millions, travel in private planes, stay in five-star hotels, employ publicists and photographers — to attempt to gain street credibility.

Some NBA players are tough guys on the court. Others give the impression they’re tough off the court. And then there’s Caron Butler, who lived the life of a teenage drug dealer and hustler, was a father at age 14, and would have been incarcerated at age 17 if not for the graciousness of a local police officer in Racine, Wis.

Most professional athletes wait until their careers are over to spin autobiographies and describe journeys, but Butler didn’t wait. His book, “Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA”, details a crime-filled childhood, the career-saving gesture from a law enforcement official who raided his home, and numerous stories from his 13 years in the NBA.

Butler now plays for the Sacramento Kings and serves as a voice of experience for a talented but potentially implosive team. His focus, however, is equally as much on reaching kids by talking about his past, hoping to affect the lives of youngsters who may feel that street crime is the lone option for survival.

“The things I’ve been through and talked about, the book is about overcoming adversity,” said Butler, who has played with nine NBA teams. “And some of the adversity that I went through with different organizations and more importantly in life, it’s about planting the right seed for kids as much as possible. It’s not about guys and relationships and the NBA or nothing like that, it’s about inspiring kids. That’s what the message is.”

Butler was arrested 13 times in his youth for various drug offenses and spent a year in a detention center before embracing basketball. Butler said he would hustle in the Racine schoolyards, engage in a pickup game or two, using basketball as merely a hobby between drug deals.

“My first love was the hustle, to be out there in the streets,” he said. “The hustle brought me nothing but sadness and hardship. The game of basketball is what I fell in love with after that. When you are faithful to that game, it brings so many things and so many opportunities, and I tried to exhaust those to the best of my abilities.”

The time in lockup was eye-opening for Butler, and so were the casualties of street life. After he was released from a correctional facility, Butler reunited with a friend who visited his home. The friend left. Butler went out for a haircut. The friend was murdered 30 minutes later.

“Seeing my closest friends being murdered, seeing myself going to corrections, knowing that the outcome of the game — either knowing you’re going to have to kill somebody or somebody is going to have to kill you, or go to jail for the rest of the your life . . . ” he said. “There were no positives from that life. But then you have a situation in which you have a window of opportunity to play something, you found your niche, you love the game of basketball, you can see the world, you can go places. I was inspired and exposed to that and knew good things would happen because of that.

“If being real is going to jail or shooting at somebody or getting your life taken, I don’t want to be real. I don’t want that.”

Butler’s daughter, Camary, was born when he was just 14 years old, during his time in lockup. He knew then that hustling would not enhance his relationship with his child.

“I’d never seen good fathers besides on TV,” he recalled. “I want to work. I want to have a good job. I want my kids to be proud of me. I want to have a wife one day. I want to have a family. How do I escape all of this? Change the perception of what we have always been. I felt like a failure for what I put my family through.”

Butler transferred from Racine Park High School to Maine Central Institute for his senior year. From there he attended the University of Connecticut, and played two years for the Huskies before the Heat selected him in the first round of the draft in 2002. He was a two-time All-Star with the Wizards and a member of the 2010-11 Mavericks championship team.

“Man, I’d be a damn liar if I said I thought all of these things were going to happen to me,” Butler said. “They were so farfetched, I didn’t see it happening, and still can’t believe it happened. I’m so humbled but it can happen to you, too.”

Lately, Butler has been talking at high schools and also exchanged ideas with the Sacramento Police Department. Also, he spoke at the White House with Lieutenant Rick Geller of the Racine Police Department, who was part of the force that raided Butler’s home in January 1998.

Caron Butler was traded by Washington weeks after Gilbert Arenas’s confrontation with Javaris Crittenton.

Butler, who was asleep at the time, had not participated in drug dealing for years, but police found drugs in his garage. Butler denied any wrongdoing, and Geller decided not to bring him in despite having enough evidence for an arrest.

The focus of the book is more about his childhood and turning his life around, but Butler does describe his version of the infamous gun incident between Wizards teammates Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton.

In December 2009 following a practice, Butler says a dispute over money in a card game that had taken place on a team flight led to Arenas placing four guns on a chair in the locker room at Verizon Center and asking Crittenton to “pick one.” Crittenton apparently pulled out his own gun before matters were settled by teammates, including Butler.

The league suspended Arenas and Crittenton for the remainder of the 2009-10 season. Crittenton never played another NBA game and pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the case of an Atlanta mother of four who was killed during a 2011 shooting. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Butler was traded to the Clippers weeks after the Arenas-Crittenton confrontation as the Wizards began a housecleaning. Arenas returned to Washington the following season and lasted 21 games there before he was traded to Orlando.

“The thing I didn’t want to talk about was that gun incident,” Butler said. “We all went to a grand jury and statements were taken so it was something that was already documented. When you’re writing a book, you know that the process is a long interview.

“I don’t have any malice in my heart and believe it or not, I love Gilbert. I [loved] Javaris. Those are dudes I went to war with. I would never share information in the locker room or anything that would hurt anyone. But because it was documented, the story was brought up. I gave my take.”

“The first thing I would have to say is don’t wait until you get to the NBA — we live an unbelievable life and we’re paid millions of dollars — to all of sudden be in search of your street credibility,” he said. “We’ve been extremely blessed all this time. It’s important that we have fun and just enjoy life. Embrace the personalities in your locker room. Don’t ever let [the Wizards’] situation happen again. These are unbelievable talents. Two men that life was forever altered.

“Man, don’t let this happen again. Don’t let it come to this.”

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