RACINE — Caron Butler took his first jump shot at the outdoor court at Roosevelt Park more than two decades ago; now, members of a new generation can take their first shot on the same ground with the court Butler helped bring to the city.
“This is where I shot my first shot, literally,” Butler said. “This is where I fell in love with the game of basketball because I couldn’t get on the courts (at the Dr. John Bryant Center) because I just wasn’t ready, and I came back here and shot my first basket right here.”
The Racine community got together on Saturday not only to celebrate Juneteenth Day, but also to mark the official opening of the “Dream Court” at Roosevelt Park just outside the Bryant Center, which Butler brought with the help of Nancy Lieberman Charities and the City of Racine.
Racine Mayor Cory Mason and Second District Alderman Mollie Jones also unveiled the renaming of 21st Street to Caron Butler Drive.
Upon seeing his name as an official street in Racine, Butler broke down in tears.
“I love my city,” Butler said.
The celebration was more than just honoring Butler’s contribution to the city, but also to inspire the next generation.
“This community is everything to me,” Butler said. “I see my face on a lot of these kids’ faces and I want to let them know that they can be anything that they dream or aspire to believe.”
Racine Police Chief Art Howell said he loves Butler like a brother.
“He has done more for the city than you can imagine,” Howell said. “Some you see in the headlines; most you never read about. Today he deserves this and more, this is the least that we can do for him.”
Early Saturday morning, Butler ran a free basketball clinic at the Bryant Center and roughly 100 area youths participated.
Bringing a court to Racine
Growing up just a few blocks away from the Bryant Center, Butler has mixed memories of the place where he first picked up a basketball.
“I’ve witnessed some of my best friends die on this street, I’ve witnessed some of my best friends lose their life in this gym,” Butler said.
Having gone through difficult times in his formative years while attending Racine Unified schools, then becoming an All-State player at Park High School, making it to the University of Connecticut and eventually playing in the NBA for 15 years — with two All-Star Game appearances and a 2011 NBA championship ring to his name — Butler feels like the celebration was a long time in the making.
“You don’t usually get a chance to live to see that,” Butler said about getting a street named after him and opening a new court. “I used to participate in free lunch and free-everything activities and all of the resources I needed, and all of a sudden this dream happened.”
In addition to Butler’s family and local dignitaries, Nancy Lieberman herself, the Hall of Fame women’s basketball player and coach, also came to Racine to celebrate the opening of the court and Butler’s legacy.
Lieberman coached Butler when he played for the Sacramento Kings in 2015, the last team he played for in the NBA, and she admired how he carried himself.
“Every time Caron came to the gym he was impeccable in his approach, he came with a professional attitude, he separated himself from other players,” Lieberman said. “He’s just such a great human being.”
Lieberman, who also serves on the NBA Retired Players Association board, said she and Butler began talking about bringing a court to Racine.
“This is his town,” Lieberman said. “It’s neat to see somebody who deeply loves their community and here we are.”
Butler’s oldest child, JC Butler, has begun to follow in his dad’s footsteps: He was a star basketball player at The Prairie School, and just finished his freshman year at the University of California-Irvine, where he and his Anteaters teammates upset fourth-seeded Kansas State in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
JC watched with pride as his dad’s street was unveiled.
“It just makes me feel proud as a son that my father did something that big for his community, that they would name a street after him, it’s a blessing,” JC Butler said. “He does so much for this community and he just puts so much effort back into it. And most people when they get famous, they want to leave and never come back, but he keeps coming back and they’re showing him the love that he deserves.”
When he heard his dad was having a street named after him, JC was not surprised.
“He’s the neighborhood hero, the hometown hero,” JC Butler said. “He’s the golden standard for anybody that’s trying to make it out, he’s the one they look up to.”
“I see my face on a lot of these kids’ faces and I want to let them know that they can be anything that they dream or aspire to believe.” Racine native and former NBA player Caron Butler