Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Kings forward Caron Butler has a story to tell

Video: Caron Butler looking to bring back the winning culture

Caron Butler said that he's looking forward to bringing back the winning culture to the Sacramento Kings.
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Caron Butler said that he's looking forward to bringing back the winning culture to the Sacramento Kings.

Three days after his first Kings practice, Caron Butler walked off the court like someone painfully familiar with the drill. His gait was slow, careful. He was grateful for the cups of water, ice bags and towels within easy reach.

But no complaints. The veteran small forward savors each of the seasons, aware that at 35 the calendar no longer works in his favor. The job description has changed dramatically, too. Butler, a two-time All-Star who once had terrific quickness and athleticism, was acquired more for his mature presence.

“The Kings needed a veteran presence,” he said matter-of-factly, “and having the opportunity to help the team transition into a winning culture was big.”

Butler could write a book about changing for the better, and in fact he already has.

In “Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA,” an autobiography that will be in bookstores next week, the 14-year pro chronicles a life that is compelling for all 219 pages. He spares few details. He refuses to flinch, describes himself at his worst and, ultimately, at his best; this is his redemption story.

“I’m from Baltimore,” Rudy Gay said Thursday, shaking his head, “and I know what it’s like. It took a lot of guts to write that book.”

Butler, who grew up in Racine, Wis., tells of selling drugs as a teen; getting arrested for bringing drugs and a gun to his high school; being imprisoned in his mid-teens – spending days in isolation after getting into an altercation with another inmate – and turning his life around after reading the Bible and reflecting upon Nelson Mandela’s decades of imprisonment.

In “Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA,” an autobiography that will be in bookstores next week, the 14-year pro chronicles a life that is compelling for all 219 pages.

Butler praises his mother and grandmother for their work ethic and relentless attempts to protect and divert him from trouble, thanks his coaches for their guidance, and reveals that he borrowed money from a drug dealer to pay tuition at a prep school in Maine. One of his more fascinating anecdotes is about his relationship with Rick Geller, a former detective who found drugs at the family’s home but believed Butler, recently released from prison and attending a nearby high school, when he disavowed any knowledge of the narcotics.

“Rick said the six words that proved to be the turning point in my life,” Butler writes, “the six words I will never forget: ‘I’m not going to charge you ... I trust you and I believe in you.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”

Only the final 28 pages are devoted to an injury-hampered career that began in Miami and has included stops in Los Angeles, Washington, Dallas, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City and Detroit. Apart from his two All-Star selections in 2007-08, the 6-foot-7 veteran’s greatest success was in Dallas, where he was on the Mavericks’ 2010-11 championship team that included Kings player development director Peja Stojakovic.

By then, Butler already was highly regarded by nearly every franchise, including the Washington Wizards. As he relates in the autobiography, he coaxed then-teammate Javaris Crittenton into putting down his gun during the locker-room incident involving Gilbert Arenas in December 2009.

Whenever I’m on the sideline or in the locker room, you’ll hear me preach winning basketball. That’s what this opportunity is about.

Caron Butler

“When Caron approached me, I already knew some of his history,” said Steve Springer, who has written extensively on the Lakers for four decades and co-authored the bestseller, “Winnin’ Time” about the Lakers franchise. “But I had no concept of how bad his situation must have been. He took me to the Racine Rec Center, where there were pictures of 21 guys on the wall. All were under 25. All of them were dead. He said, ‘I’m the only one left. It was unbelievable.’ 

Butler, who was encouraged to write the autobiography by Jay Leno after appearing on “The Tonight Show,” often hears similar comments. A movie about his life is a possibility; it undoubtedly would document his continued involvement in his hometown and the numerous businesses that employ friends and relatives, and his various charities.

Butler, who played alongside Kings general manager Vlade Divac on the Lakers, envisions himself as an NBA executive or owner, though his immediate emphasis is on helping the Kings. As he has demonstrated these past few days at UC San Diego, he isn’t shy about scolding teammates for barking at referees or failing to give a sustained effort.

“I trained all offseason to keep my body in shape,” Butler said, “and whenever I’m on the sideline or in the locker room, you’ll hear me preach winning basketball. That’s what this opportunity is about.”

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