He learned to shoot guns at age 9 and was selling drugs at 11, the NBA star who dreamed of being a drug dealer.
Caron Butler grew up without a father and in a very harsh context. How his life changed when a detective took his word for it, The criminal past allowed him to minimize the biggest scandal in NBA history.
March 22, 1998. Night falls in Racine , a city of 70,000 inhabitants, located in the state of Wisconsin and recognized as one of the great drug markets in the United States since the 1980s.
The Police have a tip and a squad of the SWAT team and the Anti-Narcotics Division arrive at a house located at 1206 Bluff Avenue as part of a raid in the fight against drug trafficking. When they enter and search her, they find 15.3 grams of crack hidden in the garage and a teenager in her bed, covered by blankets.
It’s about Caron Butler, from17 years old, a star basketball player at the Park Hig h high school, with a long criminal record, especially related to drugs.
Detective Rick Geller, in command of the operation, has the boy’s future in his hands. You can accuse him of possession of narcotics and attempted trafficking, with two aggravations (the amount exceeds 15 grams and the location of the house is less than 300 meters from his school) that can be interpreted as the certainty of contraband.
The penalty: 10 years in prison. Nothing less. It seems like a case of simple resolution. But Geller does not do it easy: he neither stays with Butler’s past nor with what seemed logical. And he makes a decision: not to charge the boy, despite the fact that many of his classmates asked him to do the opposite.
-No sir. I swear. I’m trying to put that life behind me. I haven’t been in it for at least a year and a half… ”As Caron utters the phrase, with tears in his eyes, Geller looks at his burned hands and tries to think if he’s in front of a drug dealer or just in front of a boy who tries get out of the wrong way. The “books” suggest that the case is clear enough, but Geller gives way to his intuition. And believe him. “ A drug trafficker does not have a job at Burger King for so little money … And even less if in that job he burns his hands making potato chips. A dealer doesn’t have $ 11 in his pocket, he covers himself with blankets when the police enter his house, nor does he cry that way when he claims not to be guilty, ” Geller would recall years later about what he analyzed in that police scene.
Geller, now 60, worked for 14 years in the Anti Drug Unit and equipment SWAT of the Police Department Racine until his retirement in June 2012. And that day relied on his experience …
“Everyone in the area knew about my history and the operation was huge. He had to make a decision and what he chose changed my life forever. He could easily have charged me, he had enough proof. But he chose to believer … You don’t see police officers like this today in America, ” Butler said, in a clear reference to racial difference in an area very marked by racism.
On February 12, 2014, the Fox Sports network aired a mini-documentary about the story and Kevin Johnson, that former player (and NBA star) who at that time was the governor of Sacramento – the city where Butler played, for the Kigs – was so impressed with the program that he asked to repeat it, although with a difference: with the presence of both protagonists. Johnson, somehow, wanted to leave the message about how people’s lives can change, that sometimes more support and less heavy-handedness are needed. “It is content that projects possibilities. Geller believed in Butler, trusted him. And that person ended up becoming someone of good, productive, a benefactor of society, “said Johnson in reference to the many donations and contributions that Butler has made throughout his 14 years in the NBA.
” Rick is my guardian angel, someone who touched my life forever, who allowed me to find another way, help my family, my city and many people, ” said the forward, who pocketed 85 million in contracts between 2003 and 2016 thanks to the development of diverse talents that allowed him to score an average of more than 15 points during nine of his 14 seasons, be in two All-Star Games and win a championship ring, with Dallas, in 2011.
Butler’s is one of those stories that excite and motivate because they end well, but of course, in the United States, they are the least, unfortunately. Many African Americans grow up in an unfavourable, highly complex context with few opportunities for their development. It is no coincidence that most end up in crime, drugs and then, of course, in jail or just shot in the head …
Caron’s life started like that of so many, without a father – he abandoned the family – and with a mother who did everything she could to fulfil both functions and financially support the house. As sometimes happens, a relative, in this case, Uncle Carlos, acted as a father figure, arousing Caron’s admiration.
But, of course, Carlitos spent more time behind bars than in freedom and that restraint was not enough for a teenager angry with life. The emotional and economic deficiencies, added to a context as difficult as Racine’s, made Butler choose a path that at first seems the easiest and then ends up becoming a dead end. “Why would I study if there wasn’t a quick impact on my life? Selling drugs, on the other hand, gave me hundreds of dollars a day ”, was the thought that Butler recalled that he had when he started dealing as a boy…
In ” Tuff Judiciary, my journey from the streets to the NBA,” the biography he published in 2015 and which will soon have its premiere in the cinema by actor Mark Wahlberg, Butler admitted to having started shooting firearms at men. nine years old and selling drugs at 11.
When his uncle was at large, Caron saw money, jewellery and luxuries all the time. And what he saw, he copied. He was barely 11 when he got a small amount of marijuana and started dealing in a park near his home. He said that on his first day he raised $ 38and that that motivated him to continue down that path.
Selling newspapers, especially on weekends, was his alibi, especially so that his mother would not find out where that money really came from. But, of course, for others, it was too obvious, especially for the police, who arrested him 15 times in 15 years, always for drug possession.
One of the most serious moments happened when Caron was 16 years old and in high school. The police reached his locker, where they found not only drugs but also a 32 calibre pistol and $ 1,200. Butler, a rising local basketball figure, was sentenced to nine months in prison and locked up in a correctional facility. “It was the worst experience of my life. I remember how my mother accompanied the prison bus to the very door of the correctional facility. It was very sad, ”he recalled. However, it is known, when you start to walk that path, it is difficult to return to the correct one. Shortly after being in that detention centre, he fought with other boys and spent 15 days in isolation, locked in a cell without windows and with only one hour a day of open air. And there it clicked. “It was tough, but I tried to get the positive out.
I dedicated myself to reading, writing and I definitely understood that mine could not continue being this, that I had a talent –playing basketball- and I had to take advantage of it, ”he explained about how his perspective changed. When he left, Butler enrolled in another high school, Maine Central Institute, where he showed a different attitude, greater maturity but the same talent – especially scorer – as always. That allowed him to have a scholarship from the prestigious University of Connecticut and enter the program directed by Jim Calhoun . There he stood out with averages of 18 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3 assists in the two years he remained with the Huskies. He was even part of the national team that achieved thegold in the 2001 U19 World Cup in Saitama (Japan), after agonizingly defeating Argentina in the semifinals . In 2002 , after leading UConn to the conference title and being voted the best player in the Big East, Butler was chosen at No. 10 in the NBA draft . Miami Heat and Pat Riley trusted their talents. 2m01 forward, versatile, strong and with many weapons to score, he averaged 15.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.7 passes and 1.8 steals in his debut season , which earned him being selected for the ideal rookie quintet.
In 2004 he entered the famous trade that sent Shaq O ‘Neal from the Lakers to Miami . Butler stayed in LA for a year and in August 2005 he was sent to Washington on another exchange.
There he enjoyed his best years. He was an All Star twice (2007 and 2008) and for three seasons he remained between 19 and 21 points on average. And in the Wizards , precisely, he was the protagonist of an episode, one of the biggest scandals in the history of the NBA, which reminded him a lot of those wild years on the streets of his native Racine.
It was punctually on December 21, 2009, at the Verizon Center stadium in Washington.
When Caron entered the local locker room for that Monday training session, he realized that something was not right, that the heated argument between two teammates over a game of cards – and bets – that had begun on the plane flight back from Phoenix was not it had dissipated despite the team having had much of the weekend off. Gilbert Arenas , the team’s superstar, had arrived early and, fulfilling the “promise” on that plane, had placed four revolvers (two collectibles, such as a Desert Eaglegold-plated) and a little sign (“Choose one”) on top of a chair.
The invitation was for Javaris Crittenton, a substitute of little relevance in that team but a boy who, after shining at the secondary and university level, had recorded a history of, at least, being unstable.
What’s the matter now, son of s …? Weren’t you going to shoot me? Hit it, pick one and do it. Weren’t you so brave? Because I intend to – When Crittenton saw that display of weapons and heard the threat from Arenas, instead of being intimidated, he doubled the bet.
– You don’t need to teach me anything, nor do I want any of those weapons of yours. Because I brought mine.
Javaris reached into his backpack, pulled out a semiautomatic pistol, loaded it, and pointed Arenas in the face. The companions, who until seconds ago laughed and enjoyed the “occurrence”, fled the locker room in terror. Only one stood before a surreal scene for an NBA locker room: Butler.
Far from getting nervous, Caron mediated as he had already done on the plane, although of course, this time, as practically no one could have. His past at Racine gave him the tools to do it.
– Javaris, put the gun down, please. Think about what can happen to your life if you pull that trigger. Give me that gun, please.
After a few seconds of hesitation, Crittenton looked at him, lowered the gun, and handed it to him. Arenas, still scared, ran off. And everyone breathed a sigh of relief as someone called the police. Even today there are not few who think that, if it weren’t for Butler, Javaris could have pulled the trigger. His troubled history in Atlanta and what would happen two years after that blunder – in 2011 he shot and killed a 22-year-old woman in Georgia and today is serving a 23-year prison sentence., until 2036- they give to think that the outcome could have been much worse. For the protagonists, the franchise, the NBA and American sports. What came next was not little: the NBA and Federal Justice opened an investigation and the competition suspended Arenas and Crittenton for the entire season. Javaris did not play in the NBA again and Gilbert’s career was never the same again. “In Racine I experienced much worse things than that incident. I witnessed more shootings than I can remember … Imagine that I, as a boy, dreamed of being a drug dealer and not an NBA player, ”he would admit years later in his autobiography.
That Washington team that had promised to fight the best in the East disintegrated and, in a ruse of fate, ended up where it would be champion: Dallas. That season, 11/10, Butler only played 29 games, all as starters, being the team’s third scorer (15 points), until he was injured and could not be in the rest of the season. But, somehow, fate awarded him that title that put a bow to a very good professional career. One way to close the circle. A circle that is almost unfinished several times. But that, thanks to several factors, was completed.
“It was a dream. My life is an example of what can be done and an inspiration to those who think that these things cannot happen. Seeing is believing ”, was his message while, he assures, not having stopped on his way. “Every day I try to be a better person, the best version of myself, seeking to inspire people to feel that I can. I always remember the adversity I went through and how I got over it. Hopefully there are more examples like me who can pull it off. For the good of our world ”, he closes. Hopefully, Caron, hopefully.
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