Sacramento Bee: Kings player Caron Butler uses past to inspire future


Caron Butler didn’t sling a little dope. He slung a lot.

And before he was 15, he’d been arrested 15 times, he said.

“Looking back, I was a lost kid,” Butler, an NBA veteran and new member of the Sacramento Kings, told an assembly of 400 young people at Hiram Johnson High School on Friday.

Butler said he wasn’t always good at reflecting on his troubled past. But the process of writing a book about growing up on the south side of Racine, Wis., and the second chance he was given by a law enforcement officer has been therapeutic, he said.

With his book “Tuff Juice: My Journey From the Streets to the NBA” in books stores and for sale online, Butler is getting plenty of practice these days.

Before his stop at Hiram Johnson, Butler broke bread with 18 Sacramento police officers.

Over steak sandwiches, mashed potatoes and brisket, Butler told his story and thanked the officers for their efforts to steer troubled kids away from negative influences.

“I thought it was important to share the adversity in your life to help others and help myself was well. I know other people are going through it, so why not talk about it and maybe help others,” he said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee.

Early on, the drug trade was the only life he knew.

“From an early teenager to the age of 17, that was all I was exposed to, that’s all I wanted to do, that’s all I wanted to be and I wanted to be the best at it,” said Butler, 35, who was sentenced to a year in a Wisconsin juvenile facility when he was 15.

After his release, Butler worked to change his life. His mother helped the process by moving the family to the other side of town, where he wasn’t known for selling drugs.

One encounter stood out as he talked to area officers. Butler was working a Burger King restaurant and staying out of trouble when he was caught up in a drug bust at a house in Racine. The incident could have could have sent him to jail for 10 years – and swept away his dream of going straight and playing basketball.

But Racine police Detective Rick Geller trusted his gut – and the evidence – that Butler was not involved and did not arrest him.

During his NBA career, Butler has created community programs bringing cops and kids together at some of his NBA stops, which include winning an NBA championship in 2011 with the Dallas Mavericks.

Sacramento police officer Samuel Davis Jr. sees scores of kids who are working through similar troubles in his work with the department’s criminal justice program.

“We are trying to get these kids to understand the importance of a high school degree,” Davis said. “Our goal is to make law-abiding, taxpaying citizens out of them.”

At Hiram Johnson High School, where Davis is assigned, Butler was met with an enthusiastic audience.

“To me what was inspiring was how he made it out,” said Terra Lawrence, a 16-year-old junior.

While basketball was his way out, he said, there are many paths to success and a future.

“Being successful is doing something positive and finding your niche ... and making a living out of it,” Butler said. “That is a success story to me. It may not be making a millions of dollars (but) ... you can live a great life.”

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