As far as emotions go, Caron Butler’s introductory press conference had them all. There were tears and there were laughs, but each emotion was generated because coming back home means so much to the veteran small forward.
Acquired last week in a trade with the Phoenix Suns, Butler was introduced Thursday as the new starting small forward for the Milwaukee Bucks in his hometown of Racine, Wis. Sitting in the gymnasium of Racine Park High School, Butler was in the place where his transformation from a troubled teen to an NBA All-Star began.
“It’s a different emotion now because this is a dream come true,” Butler said while fighting back tears. “This is something I’ve always dreamed about and thought about. I never thought it would happen, so it is special.”
A potential homecoming seemed far away when Butler was dealt from the Los Angeles Clippers in July to the Phoenix Suns as part of a three-team deal involving Milwaukee. The Bucks signed and traded J.J. Redick to the Clippers, as Butler was part of the package shipped to Phoenix.
With the Suns rebuilding their franchise, Butler approached management about being traded elsewhere. He was sure to thank Phoenix on Thursday for the way it handled his situation.
“Very, very classy organization,” Butler said. “I sat down and met with them one-on-one and I felt like the best situation for me was to be with a contending team. They went about this process, they handled me like a human being and as a professional. I tip my hat off to them for being real professional about this whole transaction for me and my family.”
As Butler went around the room introducing the numerous family members in attendance at his press conference, he appeared to realize at that moment how important playing in front of them on a nightly basis will be to him.
He’s played in Milwaukee numerous times in his 11-year career, but this time around he will get to do it wearing “Bucks” on his chest. It will be the realization of a dream Butler often wondered whether or not would come true.
“I can’t even put it into words what it is going to feel like because I just don’t know what it’s going to feel like yet,” Butler said. “It’s going to be extremely special. The team that I grew up watching was Sidney Moncrief and those guys many years ago. Watching on TMJ4 and WGN as they battled the Chicago Bulls and those rivalries.
“Now to be in that conference and to be out there on that floor wearing a Bucks uniform, having Racine and Milwaukee stand up loud and proud and represent, that’s going to be extremely special. I’m going to put on for my city.”
The Caron Butler story is a good one, maybe because of how close it came to never happening. Butler very easily could have ended up on the wrong path and was dangerously close to never finding his way out of trouble.
A teenage drug dealer in Racine, Butler was a freshman at Racine Case High School when police found drugs and an unloaded gun in his locker. Though he’s said the items belonged to a friend, Butler told police they were his and he received an 18-month sentence.
He spent two months in the Racine Correctional Institute before being transferred to the Ethan Allen School for Boys in Wales, Wis. to serve out his sentence. After he was released, the leader of a local community center convinced Butler to play for his travel team.
While playing for the travel team and at Park High School, Butler quickly became noticed as one of the top talents in the country. Jameel Ghuari, the leader of the Bray Community Center in Racine and Butler’s travel team coach, decided it would be best for the young star to leave Racine.
From there it was off to Maine Central Institute to finish his prep career before receiving a scholarship to play collegiately at the University of Connecticut. After starring there for two years, he was picked 10th overall by the Miami Heat in 2002. Butler had found his way from constant trouble to an NBA first-round pick in a relatively short period of time.
“What I would say to all of you out there, even my children, seeing is believing,” Butler said. “I’ve been through a lot of adversity throughout my life. I’ve been a kid and a young man that has always been told what I couldn’t accomplish or what I couldn’t do. To be in this position and to be doing this at a high level for over these years, it’s extremely special. Once again, I’m going to go out there and prove the doubters wrong. We are going to make it happen. We are going to make history again.
“I was close (to not making it) many times, but I have a strong mindset. I’m part of that failure is not an option society. I couldn’t look those people in the face and be a failure. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. It was hard enough to do it once, but to do it again would be my total demise. I just kept striving and moving forward and made something of myself. I’d say I did a good job.”
Butler wasn’t brought to the Bucks just to have the feel-good story of his homecoming or for him just to be a positive influence in the locker room. At 33 years old, Butler will be expected to bring quite a bit to the floor each night. He’s going to be in the team’s starting lineup and the former All-Star will have a chance to be one of the go-to scorers.
That wasn’t his role last season with the Clippers, but Butler did start 78 games and averaged 10.4 points.
“We talked about trying to build a championship-caliber team and we are really excited about some of the young pieces we have on our roster,” Bucks general manager John Hammond said. “We aren’t going to stray from that, but we also talked about needing veteran players that can help us in our process. A veteran player that can mentor and help lead the young guys. We know Caron can do that, but make no mistake, he’s here for a lot more than just that. We need him on the floor.”
Milwaukee has completely revamped its roster from a year ago and seemed finished before it traded for Butler. But head coach Larry Drew saw small forward as the team’s remaining weakness.
When he heard Butler was available, Drew got excited. Not only did he remember having to coach against him on the floor, but also he has always heard rave reviews of Butler as a teammate and as a leader.
“I told John that we have to do everything we can to make this thing happen,” Drew said. “I felt we had done a really good job up until that point as far as putting this team together. I would say we have done a great job now in solidifying that small forward position.
“He’s a competitor. You hope that those type of tangibles will rub off on other players. It’s not always about just the talent. You have to have guys who bring a level of toughness and guys who have been through the wars and down in the trenches. Certainly over Caron’s years he’s been in a lot of different situations. He’s won championships and experienced it all.”
And while Butler himself expects to bring a different kind of toughness to go along with leadership and experience, he also looks forward to being a role model for many of the inner-city kids in Racine and Milwaukee. They now have a person to look up to, someone who has come from their shoes and made it in his profession.
The value and importance of that for the community may be a very underrated aspect of Butler’s homecoming.
“I feel like basketball is a huge reflection of life,” Butler said. “The reason I was successful was because I always wanted to prove other people wrong. Everybody puts this stigma on you like ‘You aren’t going to make it or you can’t do it because of this.’ I always wanted to go out and prove doubters wrong and be a good example for the kids that watched me, my children, the children in my family because the examples and role models I had were different people. They were the people running the streets and doing different things.
“It’s real rewarding and self-gratifying to hear people say ‘I look up to you. Because you did that I feel like I can do this.’ That’s special to me and that means a lot. I’m going to continue to break down walls and barriers.”