SLAMonline Top 50: Caron Butler, no. 24

by September 30, 2008

by Holly MacKenzie

After being drafted 10th in the 2002 NBA Draft, Caron Butler said he would make the teams who passed on him regret it. Spending time in Miami and Los Angeles before being traded to Washington, Caron left fans in both cities wishing he was still on their squad.

Defying logic and limitations far longer than his six years in the NBA, before we delve into Caron the player and why he is holding it down in the 24th spot on our countdown, let us first look at the person behind the player to see the passion that keeps him going. All odds stacked against him, his path to becoming one of the best in the NBA is a good one.

By now, most of you know Caron didn’t really get into playing basketball the way most children did. He didn’t allow himself to fully fall in love with the game until it ended up becoming the only thing he did have. Incarcerated when he was 14 (after 15 or so arrests), Caron began to see the game as his way out. That and a meal ticket towards Little Debbie snack cakes. Before he was through, he was cashing in those tickets daily and the game had his heart.

How can anyone root against a guy who counted his victories by snacks won? Don’t knock that hustle.

Turning things around upon his release, Caron had a more than successful collegiate career, averaging 20.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in his sophomore year and capping-off his college experience by pouring in 32 points in a loss to Maryland in the Elite Eight. He was also named co-Big East player of the year in what would be his final season at Connecticut.

Despite that strong send off to the Draft, the drop to 10th happened and he really wasn’t pleased. Not that this would end up being a problem. He treats obstacles as stepping-stones, reminders to keep pushing.

While his rookie season was successful, it was in the postseason of 2004 that the basketball world was forced to stop and take a closer look at the Miami Heat and their guy, Caron. With a rookie named Dwyane Wade tearing it up, Caron almost seemed to fade into the background. Then Game 7 came, and he showed up to play. 23 points, 9 rebounds and one Slamadamonth-worthy throw down over Baron Davis, and he had arrived.

May 4, 2004, the NBA learned Tough Juice can be tough to swallow. Boom will attest to that.

After being in the spotlight during the playoffs, Caron ended up being sent to LA along with Lamar Odom and Brian Grant. Playing alongside Kobe Bryant only aided his development as he continued to improve his game and come into his own on the floor. While he spent just one year in LA before being sent to Washington, he solidified his reputation as a hard-nosed, heady player whose versatility allowed him to provide whatever was needed for his team to be successful.

Washington–Caron’s home for the past three years. While health plagued the team in each of these seasons, Caron worked himself into a two-time All-Star while also emerging as a leader on a Wizards team that lost Gilbert Arenas for most of this past season. To anyone wondering why he’s got the 24th spot, consider this–despite playing banged up for the better part of the year (and appearing in only 58 games due to injury), he averaged more than 20 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. The three others in this category? LeBron, Kobe and Vince Carter.

His fearlessness is exactly what the Wizards need from him and exactly what his previous teams lament letting get away. Whether he is making the decision to get to the basket or is letting it fly from outside, Caron is confident in his game. That quiet confidence has always been there and after adding a legitimate three-point shot to his repertoire he is on the verge of having a big year this season.

While Caron Butler has made it onto this list, most importantly he has made it. When he was headed down a dark, dark path the game swooped in and saved him. Look at him when he plays. Straw in his mouth when the game is on and chewing furiously during time outs. Beyond the jumpers and athleticism you will see the steady determination, intense focus and the unbreakable drive of a man who has seen more than most can imagine and more than he could ever forget. He is a story of survival. And after becoming living proof that some dreams do come true, he will now try to bring life to the Wizards championship aspirations.

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