Caron Butler Went From Being A Drug-Dealing Gang Member To Becoming An NBA All-Star & Champion

Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Caron Butler Went From Being A Drug-Dealing Gang Member To Becoming An NBA All-Star & Champion


Caron Butler, who celebrates his 42nd birthday today, was once a marquee name in the NBA and a jack of all trades—he could score, rebound, and was an elite perimeter defender. Though he was named to two All-Star teams in his career, Butler was a player who could be very valuable to a team as a starting shooting guard putting up an easy 15-20 point a night, but has always been considered on the cusp of superstardom.

This article isn’t about how great of a player Caron Butler once was, but the unbelievably delinquent childhood Butler once knew as a young man growing up in the mean streets of Racine, Wisconsin.

In his 2015 book, Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA, the one-time NBA champion describes and tells all about his troubled life in the ghetto before being drafted to the NBA. Around this time—instead of proving himself on the basketball court—he had to prove himself on the streets as a gang member and drug dealer.

Caron Butler has seen it all: friends killed, gang fights, arrested 15 times before the age of 15. A life in the ghetto is not easy, and people who grew up in such a grueling place either don’t grow to see their elder years, or stay there for life.

Becoming successful while living in the ghetto is tough, but has been done before.

How was Caron Butler introduced to basketball, anyway? While incarcerated in a juvenile detention center in his early teenage years, Butler embraced the game of basketball more than anything in his life. 11 months later, clean, drug-free; Butler took his basketball skills and ran with them. Butler played on Amateur Athletic Union teams as a youngster, and played a few years at Racine Park High School in Racine, Wisconsin dominating the competition. Drug-free and bound for success on the basketball court, nothing was stopping Caron Butler.

But, in January of 1998, Butler’s future was almost completed shattered. One man’s decision to let a now-clean Butler off on a home invasion drug-bust allowed his future to live another day. Story goes, a sick, bedridden Butler with a throw up bucket in his reach was suddenly stunned when police officers burst in searching for drugs. Police Officer Rick Geller obtained a search warrant and instantly went over to Butler’s house; with Butler’s previous rap sheet, the officer thought this was an easy bust. Butler’s dreams of playing basketball were not going to be tarnished. With tears in his eyes and burns on his hands from his job at Burger King, Butler explained it was a false call and he was most definitely clean — Officer Rick Geller did not charge Butler with a crime.

The 2x NBA All-Star could have faced up to ten years in prison. Looking back about fifteen years later, Officier Geller remembers, “I was gonna nail this kid.” He continues at a ‘Champions of Change Law Enforcement and Youth’ meeting event at the White House, “We [ended] up executing the warrant and I get inside and I start talking to this young man.”

Butler attended Maine Central Institute Prep School from 1998-1999. In his first year at the school, he was considered one of the most promising young players coming through the program — averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds at Maine Central. During his sophomore year at the school, Butler was now catching Big East teams’ eyes with his outstanding play. His averages jumped seven points and one rebound; 26 points and 13 rebounds per game. Though he was a standout at Maine Central, the farthest his team ever finished a season was a loss in the State Finals. Now “the man” at Maine Central, Caron Butler was getting lured to big-name colleges by big-name coaches. The Big East was where Butler wanted to play, and that’s exactly where he played. In 1999, Butler received a scholarship to attend the University of Connecticut to play for the Connecticut Huskies men’s basketball team under head coach Jim Calhoun. Butler made an immediate impact the day he stepped on the court—leading the team in points and rebounds per game. After a stellar freshman season averaging 15.6 points and 7.6 per game, Butler took home gold with the United States in the 2001 FIBA World Championship for Young Men. His second season at Connecticut was even better – averaging 20.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game leading the Huskies to both regular season and tournament Big East titles. He was named co-Big East player of the year, a second-team All-American, and led the Huskies to the Elite 8 of the NCAA basketball tournament. The Huskies were defeated by the Maryland Terrapins late in the tournament.

It was time for Caron Butler to turn professional. Five years earlier, he was selling dope on the streets of Racine, Wisconsin, now, he’s about to become a multimillionaire, doing what he loves. As David Stern said on draft night, “The Miami Heat have selected Connecticut Huskies forward Caron Butler with the 10th overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft.” Butler had an impressive rookie campaign averaging 15.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game for the 25-56 Miami Heat. Butler won the Rookie of the Month award four times, and was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team.

After a brief stint with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers from 2004-2005, Butler inked a 5-year, $46 million deal to play for the Washington Wizards. Butler remained a Wizard from 2005-2010, and had some of his best seasons with the team – in 2007, he posted career-highs in points, assists, steals, and field goal percentage. Butler was named to the 2007 NBA All-Star team for the first time in his career. The next season, Butler was also named an All-Star. Butler finally made it. $46 million was easily much more than he ever made slinging drugs on the street…

From 2010-2013, Butler bounced around the league a bit winning a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, and being a key asset in the Los Angeles Clippers playoff run in 2012 and 2013. Thought he was slowing down in the early 2010’s, Butler still put up around 10-15 points per game for the team he played for.

Next it was returning home to play for the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2013-14 season. After being bought out by Milwaukee that same year, Butler inked a deal to come off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Butler was a primary source for scoring off the bench to support superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. In 22 regular season and 17 playoff games, Oklahoma City was defeated by Sam Antonio in the Western Conference Finals, 4-2.

Butler’s next stop was Detroit in the 2014-15 season. Before ending his NBA career as a member of the Sacramento Kings in 2016.

In 2019, Racine Mayor Cory Mason and Second District Alderman Mollie Jones have formally announced that the town’s 21st Street has officially been renamed to Caron Butler Drive.

Once a young kid from the streets of Racine, Wisconsin with no future, now a veteran professional basketball player who has earned millions. The day Butler retired, he was able to reminisce the old days of hustling in the street, making a living the sleazy way with a guilty smile and thought of “I made it.” One of these streets now have his name. What a story.

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