Interview: NBA's Caron Butler Finds Beauty In The Struggle In New Book 'Tuff Juice: My Journey From The Streets To The NBA'
From the rough streets of Racine, Wisconsin to the hardwood of the NBA, Sacramento Kings forward, Caron Butler, offers a glimpse into his life journey in his new book Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA. It's loaded with vulnerable anecdotes as he scribes about once being incarcerated, growing up without a father, and the hard-earned lessons from his past that made him the man he is today.
Between the pages, the husband and father of one details his days of drug dealing and being a gang banger as a means to tell the youth and those in struggle that they, too, can rise above their circumstances. Semi-spoiler alert: Readers will also be treated to a foreword written by Laker legend, Kobe Bryant.
Look into the peephole of Butler's life as the NBA baller expands on his autobiography, overcoming adversity and the ability to find beauty in the struggle.—Aisha Quinones
VIBE: What made you decide to share your personal story in Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA?
Caron Butler: A lot of things. I want to use my platform for as much good as possible. I try to plant seeds and touch people that’s just like me, that come from an inner city and tough environments, [and] be some inspiration and guidance to know that people from all walks of life can make it and be successful. [It's] important for me at this point in time to do it.
Without giving away too much, what will be the most surprising thing that readers will find out about you from your book?
I think the biggest thing a lot of readers will be surprised about is what I had to overcome to get to this point in my life of my career. They will be so shocked.
Tell us a little bit about growing up in Racine, Wisconsin.
It was tough. I had a combination of everything. You had Milwaukee on top of us, you had Chicago on the bottom and then in the middle was Racine, so you had the gangs, you had the drugs, you had everything and you’re exposed to so much. The crime rate was pretty bad and there was a lot of adversity you had to overcome from the second you walk off your porch to the second you come back into your house, if you’re lucky enough to come back home.
At what point in your life did it hit you that it was time to turn over a new leaf and change your life for the better?
When I got incarcerated, I think that was an opportunity for me to be away from everything for so long and just be out of my everyday norm, my everyday environment and learn a lot about myself. Once I was placed out of that environment, I wanted to do better. I wanted to not be in that same cycle that I once was.
You speak about the impact of your mom in your book and being the product of a single parent household. If there was any type of advice that you could give to those in similar situations, what would you say?
I hurt so bad when I got locked up and I just felt like I was a huge disappointment to my mother. What I would say to a lot of youth in that situation that have single parent households and stuff like that is, you’ll do it for yourself. Do it for the person that works so hard to provide for you and see you have a better life, and try to make the best out of that situation as much as possible cause you owe it to yourself, you owe it to them because they’re sacrificing so much and being selfless in order for you to have the better things in life.
During your stint with the UConn Huskies, how would you describe the influence that then coach, Jim Calhoun, had on your life as both a basketball player as well as a person?
He was unbelievable. He taught me a lot about just being a good human being, a good person, having a family atmosphere around you and the importance of family and professionalism; being on and off the court; being a student-athlete first before being an athlete. Just the importance about leaving a legacy, talking about legacy at the point of when I came to Connecticut, talking about doing the right thing. I already had a child at the time and he used to tell me you want to have a good name and do these things so your kid can appreciate all the things that you’ve done. I’ve always started thinking like that once I started talking to him more.
Your book received praise from Mark Wahlberg, Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley, just to name a few. How does that make you feel as an author?
It’s unbelievable because [that's] many people that I have so much respect for. You know, from Kobe Bryant writing the foreword, from Pat Riley, one of the best teachers and instructors that the game of basketball has ever seen. But he’s not only that, he’s one of the best instructors of life. You know, he’ll teach you so much about life, so much about you as a person and what you should be striving for and how you can make others better. Dwyane Wade, that’s my brother right there. I consider him family for life. The respect that I have for him and the man that he is and the man that he has become, just people like that praising you. And Mark Wahlberg, great friend. Someone who I have a great deal of respect for, as well. It’s unbelievable. It’s hard to put in words. You just try to remain humble and just be in the moment as much as possible.
With so many things on your résumé ranging from basketball, multiple business ventures, and philanthropy, you often cite family as the motivating force in your life. What about their presence specifically keeps the foundation of your success strong and stable?
I would have to say this—just prayer. I always pray and I’ve always appreciated having real people around you to humble you. You get a little bigheaded 'cause it happens to all of us. We all feel ourselves at some point when we reach certain goals and heights in our career but I have a strong foundation and a good group of people that always keep me balanced and humble, and always keep me going. They really keep me focused on just making other people better and speaking to the youth, speaking to these people that lack a little inspiration but definitely need it and definitely need to hear a story of a miracle or something close to it, and be inspired by it.
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I’d have to say just overcoming that situation and becoming a good father, being a good father, being a good husband. Accomplishing those things and try to be better. It’s a work in progress. I’m still trying to be better. You know, I grew up without a father so I’m still trying to be better and better as time goes by.
You recently attended the White House for the "Champions of Change" event, where you had Wisconsin police officer Rick Geller, whom you have history with, by your side. What was special about this moment?
It was special because Sargent Geller was one of the people that had raided the house that day in 1996-97 when they found drugs and stuff in the house. They could’ve easily took me to prison for 10 to 15 years and he chose not to charge me in that situation and my life has been altered ever since. To be on that platform with him at the "Champions of Change" event and just talk about the bridge between people, police officers, the community, and that was just unbelievable. From that moment to this moment, it was lovely.
I have to be honest about the situation. Before, I ran from cops and I didn’t feel that law enforcement officials were for my best interest because they used to run me out the neighborhoods that I grew up in but then I had to do a self-evaluation and see why was I being chased off these streets. I was selling poison in these streets, I was doing these things and some people were just doing their job. And then you have your handful of guys that don’t do their job the way they’re supposed to but Officer Geller has changed my perception on a lot officers because of the way he perceived me and the way he gave me a second chance. I think that there’s a lot of good cops out there. There are a handful of bad ones; obviously, we’ve seen the stories. They’ve been well-documented but the stories of the good cops have not been well-documented and it’s good to have this platform to see such officers get the recognition that they deserve because there are so many good ones out there.
Looking into the future, what are you looking forward to the most as you embark on a new NBA season with the Sacramento Kings?
I’m looking forward to winning and playing the exciting game of basketball and being a positive influence to my new teammates and guys all around the league. 'Cause now that your story is out there a little bit more, you’re on that platform and a lot of people are going to ask more questions and I’m welcoming those questions. I’m willing to open up, talk about them and discuss them. I’m excited to be doing this and I’m happy.