RACINE — Recently, when Caron Butler worked out, he started hearing rumors about himself.
“It’s funny, because every time you’re working out or you’re trying to be healthy … people assume, because they only see you as a professional athlete, that you’re trying to make a comeback or something,” Butler said in a Wednesday interview with The Journal Times.
“So I felt that after being out of that NBA space as a basketball player for two years, and just coming to grips that, ‘It’s time to retire.’”
On Tuesday, The Players’ Tribune published an essay penned by Butler officially announcing his retirement from the NBA and looking back on his career.
After several run-ins with the law during his youth, Butler turned his life around and played for the University of Connecticut for two seasons. In 2002, the Park High School graduate was drafted by the Miami Heat of the NBA.
During his 16-year career, Butler played for nine different teams including a pair of All-Star seasons with the Washington Wizards in 2008 and 2009, a championship season in 2011 with the Dallas Mavericks, and a short stint back home with the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2013-14 season.
“If I got into the best shape of my life right now, I can still go play basketball, because that’s just something I’ve been gifted with,” Butler said. “(But,) you just know it’s your time. My heart just wasn’t in it as a player to give it my all.”
One highlight during Butler’s career was standing on the podium in 2011 when the Mavericks won the championship and being selected to the All-Star team.
“I’m from Racine, Wisconsin, I represent the two-six-two (area code) proudly,” Butler said. “When I got on that stage and I got my first All-Star nod of my career, it was mind-blowing because it felt like being drafted all over again … I just tried to put on (a performance) for the state and the city.”
Dinner with Kobe Bryant
In 2016, during his final playing season with the Sacramento Kings, Butler called his good friend Kobe Bryant — who was on his “farewell tour” with the Los Angeles Lakers — to meet for dinner when the team was at home in Sacramento.
Butler said he reserved a small private room for the two of them, but Bryant convinced him to sit with the other restaurant customers. During that dinner the two of them talked about the transition from being a player to retirement and their “basketball notebook.”
“This is our first love in life,” Butler said. “At some point, this is for any athlete I don’t care who you are — Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James — you’re going to have to say goodbye to your first love, and how will you love again? The key is finding your passion within. And it’s not going to be a passion that others want for you.”
Athletes always want to please people, be it coaches, fans or teammates, Butler said, but at some point athletes need to start thinking beyond their playing career.
“A long career in professional sports is about 1,400 days,” Butler said. “Think about that: 1,400 days is nothing compared to natural life. So you got all of that life to live going forward, and I really hope athletes really start thinking like that.”
During Bryant’s farewell tour, when the Lakers played the Bucks in Milwaukee, Butler said his son JC Butler, a senior at The Prairie School and star basketball player, got to meet and have a one-on-one talk with Bryant.
“(Bryant) brought him to the back and was able to give him some insight,” Caron said. “They took a picture together. That was a huge turning point for (JC) to become the player he is now.”
Movie project to come to Racine
Although only a few days into retirement, Butler said he’s looking forward to watching his five kids develop into adults.
“Just seeing them from an educational standpoint and how they’re excelling in life,” Butler said. “Seeing my son JC, who’s committed to (playing basketball at) UC-Irving and watching him develop on the fly, that’s what it’s all about. I always wanted to leave the game when he was in the bulk of his career. Now I get to help him.”
Butler has also become a fixture on television doing basketball commentary for ESPN men’s college basketball programming and on TNT, and being live-in-studio for Spectrum SportsNet commenting on the Lakers (he also played for the Lakers and Clippers during his career).
But, aside from basketball, one of his major projects is a movie about his life which, Butler said, involves actor and producer Mark Wahlberg.
“Which will be filmed at the end of this year, 2018,” Butler said. Part of the movie is planned to be filmed in Racine, he added. “Just know it’s coming.”
“This really has been a magical ride. … I want to thank the community for always supporting me,” Butler said. “I remember every time I used to read The Journal Times, I used to always see certain things that related to my past, ‘Caron Butler who was once arrest for blah, blah, blah.’ I want kids to understand that I turned that negative into a complete positive.”