Kobe Bryant is in his 20th season with the Lakers, but through the years he’s been selective about who he forms close relationship with.
In the forward for Caron Butler’s, “Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA,” Bryant writes that he and Butler have remained connected, even though they only played together a single year with the Lakers.
“Caron and I bonded in day one and that bond remains as strong today as it ever was even though he now wears a different uniform,” Bryant writes. “It’s very rare for me to open up to somebody like that, but I just had a connection with him. He’s one of my favorite teammates.”
“There’s Caron, there’s Pau [Gasol], there’s [Derek Fisher] and Ronnie Turiaf.”
The Lakers acquired Butler in the 2004 blockbuster deal that also brought in Lamar Odom and sent Shaquille O’Neal to the Miami Heat, who had drafted Butler with the 19th overall pick in 2002.
The 35-year-old forward’s story details his life as a teenage drug peddler, a path that eventually landed him in a juvenile detention center.
Butler said his hope in sharing his story is to inspire others to strive for a better life.
“I just felt like it was a great opportunity. That stuff needs to be told, and I’d be selfish if I didn’t use this platform to inspire as many people as possible,” he said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
“I really wanted to put it out there, to inspire the have-nots and the people with less-offs,” he continued. “Seeing is believing, anything is possible.”
After multiple arrests by the age of 15, Butler was sentenced to a two-year term at the Ethan Allen School in Wales, Wis.
There he found himself learning how to be a more efficient criminal, until a fight with a fellow inmate landed him in a solitary cell for 23 hours a day.
He spent nearly two weeks alone, reflecting on his life choices.
“I felt reborn when I got out of The Hole,” Butler writes. “I had a new frame of mind as a result.”
Butler said he spent the rest of his incarceration working to improve himself, and was eventually released early after serving 11 months.
Butler is now in his 14th season, currently with the Sacramento Kings, serving as a veteran mentor to a team led by all-star forward/center DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins is one of the most talented big men in the league, but has a temperamental nature. The Kings recently held a team meeting after an outburst from Cousins following the team’s 1-8 start.
“Behind closed doors we addressed some things and we came together. Because of that, we’re playing great basketball right now,” Butler said. “It’s about camaraderie; when things go bad, you figure it out. Whatever it is, you figure it out and you move forward, and that’s what we did.”
Cousins responded with a strong run on the court.
“He just got Western Conference player of the week, and he’s averaging, I think, 36 points, 11 [rebounds] and shooting 47% from [three-point range] the past four or five games,” Butler said Wednesday of his teammate. “He’s playing unbelievable. I’m happy for him and I stay in his ear, continue to tell him to be aggressive and shoot the ball, and to lead us and he’s been doing that.”
Later that night, Cousins threw an elbow at Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford, earning a one-game suspension. The Kings lost without him on Thursday to the Miami Heat.
Leaving the Lakers, Butler was sent to Washington in return for Kwame Brown; he was a two-time all-star with the Wizards.
Butler earned a championship ring with the Mavericks during the 2010-11 season, although a knee injury sidelined him for most of his time in Dallas.
He also spent two years with the Clippers, along with stops with the Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Detroit Pistons.
“Being up under the wing of Kobe Bryant and the relationship that we built over that time, I learned a lot about the game of basketball,” Butler said. “I took the things that I learned from him, and that’s why I had the success that I had in my career.”
Butler’s experience as a troubled youth has given him a unique point of view on the pressures players experience on the court.
“At the end of a game, you know it’s going to be a win or a loss,” he said. “When you’re going through things and you lose friends, it’s a lot more than that. It put a lot of perspective on a lot of things. I think that’s why I’m still around in the NBA today.
“Of course I stay in shape, and I still can play the game of basketball, but I give perspective to locker rooms; being a veteran guy, I can talk to guys and younger guys and people who are going through the moment, and offer real-life perspective.”
Butler said he’s honored by the reception his autobiography, written with former Times scribe Steve Springer, has received.
“I didn’t think the book would reach so many people, which it has -- Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, the NBA, Russell Westbrook, so many guys I’ve played with over the years -- just the respect and love that it was shown with posts and retweets and support. It was unbelievable.”
Butler said he recently caught up with Bryant in person during a preseason game in Las Vegas between the Lakers and Kings -- the same night Odom, their former teammate, was found unconscious in a Nevada brothel and hospitalized nearby.
“I went to the locker room to see [Bryant],” Butler said. “He was on the [training] table and I talked to him. The whole Lamar situation had broken out [and] when we got the news, he told me that he was leaving to go check on Lamar. I sent my prayers and my best wishes.
"[Bryant and I] stay in constant contact, either through text or email. He’s a big brother. I consider him family, somebody I’ll be friends with long after the game of basketball is over. He feels the same way, that’s my brother for life.”
My Journey from the Streets to the NBA
Caron Butler with Steve Springer
Lyons Press: 238 pp., $25.95
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