Caron Butler’s childhood dream: Drug-dealing kingpin, not NBA player

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Challenge: Find someone who grew up playing basketball and didn’t – for at least a moment – dream of playing in the NBA.

Even I – short, slow and uncoordinated – fantasized about a pro career while shooting on a driveway hoop. Practically every basketball-playing kid does – especially someone who actually has the talent to reach the league.

But not Caron Butler.

Butler grew up dealing drugs in Racine, Wisconsin. Despite his tall frame and natural ability, he never even imagined basketball as a career option.

“It was just pastime,” Butler said. “The real goal was being out there on the streets and trying to make ends meet and make money.”

Butler did that.

He began shooting guns at 9, dealing drugs at 11, bragging about his $10,000 stash and nice clothes at 13.

Butler looked up to drug dealers like Jimmy “Junebug” Carter, whom described himself as “The Santa Claus of the ghetto.” As Butler tells it, Junebug won a BMW in a dice game, shut down a local Foot Locker by buying all the merchandise and kept 10s of thousands of dollars in various houses around the city.

“Be like Mike? Everybody I knew wanted to be like Junebug,” Butler wrote in his autobiography, “Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA.”

The book details Butler’s rough upbringing, including his 11 months in the Ethan Allen School for Boys after being convicted for having a gun and cocaine in his high school locker at age 15. There are stories of shootouts (both with Butler shooting and being shot at), car chases and friends’ deaths.

Interestingly, only a single chapter is devoted to his NBA years – subsections on his time with the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Wizards, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Detroit Pistons and Sacramento Kings whizzing by. The book spends more time on Butler’s family members – not his relationships with them, but their own stories.

Butler wants readers to know where he came from.

He nearly didn’t have an opportunity to tell his story. After he was released from Ethan Allen and quit dealing, Butler was home when police searched his place and found crack in the garage. Butler said it didn’t belong him, but he also knew people hid things in the garage.

“That’s just what it was,” Butler said. “In the neighborhood, it was a lot of places where people stored stuff and hid items and things.

“You may walk down the street and see a Dorito bag that’s balled up. But if you pick it up, there may be something in it. Or you may walk down the alley and see different garages and doors open and stuff, and you may stumble upon a lot of things that you wasn’t supposed to stumble upon. So, I wasn’t searching for things. But I was aware of my surroundings.”

A new charge could’ve sent Butler to prison long enough to end his budding basketball career. But an officer on the scene, Rick Geller, believed the drugs weren’t Butler’s and let him go. Apparently, only later did Geller learn of Butler’s ability on the hardwood.

Butler says many people helped him over the years, some out of genuine compassion and others just to latch onto his basketball talent. And he’s grateful for both groups. Where would he be without the basketball-minded, with only the authentic do-gooders?

“Worst-case scenario, I probably wouldn’t be here on earth,” Butler said. “Best-case scenario, I’d probably be incarcerated.”

Butler never had the luxury of choosing the source of his support. When he needed $5,500 to pay for prep school in Maine, he got it from a drug-dealing friend. They remain close. But when Butler reached the NBA, he wrote a check to three other Racine drug-dealers who helped him in bleaker times and broke ties.

How did he know whom to keep in his life and whom to leave behind? After all, the dealer he’s still friends with received a 10-year sentence after loaning Butler the tuition money.

“Certain people had reached out and extended themselves for all the right reasons,” Butler said. “And certain people had reached out an extended themselves for all the wrong reasons and wasn’t trying to better themself in life.

“I had to facilitate myself through those situations, and it was tough. There’s no manual for that stuff.”

No, there’s not. But Butler’s book at least offers some insight into his situation – one with elements shared by many.

For Butler, carrying a gun seemed normal. Getting arrested seemed normal. Dealing drugs seemed normal.

In his story, criminals aren’t necessarily the bad guys. They’re also family and friends.

So, as Butler has gone through a successful 14-year NBA career he never imagined, he’s not hiding his past. Active in the community, he uses his experiences to help young people coming up who see drug-dealing as their best option.

“When you come from that environment, when you come from that lifestyle, the only thing they know is what they know. If it happens to be that trade, it’s unfortunate,” Butler said. “But there’s some people out there that have good hearts and good intentions that’s trying to better their self and just going about it a little bit in the wrong way. They just need some direction.

“Look what happened in my life with some direction.”

Bamba suspended four games, Rivers three for fight Friday night

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The NBA came down hard on Mo Bamba and Austin Rivers (in a way they didn’t with Dillon Brooks).

The Magic’s Bamba was suspended four-game and the Timberwolves’ Rivers got a three-game suspension — both without pay — for their part in a fight between the teams Friday night.

In addition, Magic guard Jalen Suggs was suspended one game for “escalating the altercation by aggressively grabbing Rivers around the neck and pulling him to the floor.” The Timberwolves’ Jaden McDaniels was fined $20,000 for running into the scrum and pushing Bamba in the back.

As for why the relatively stiff penalties in this case, the NBA said: “Following the incident, Bamba attempted to continue to engage with Rivers in a hostile manner in the corridor outside the locker rooms where he also aggressively shoved a security representative. Both Bamba and Rivers continued the escalation on social media following the game.”

Friction between Bomba and Rivers started a few plays earlier when Rivers — who was in the game — missed a corner 3 in front of the Magic bench, and there was jawing from Bamba and others. Rivers came over and confronted and the fight started soon after, with Bamba coming off the bench. After an official review, five players were ejected: Rivers, McDaniels and Taurean Prince from the Timberwolves; Bamba and Suggs from the Magic.

Banba and Rivers did continue the fight on social media, which added to their time off.

The suspensions will all start on Sunday, Feb. 5.

Kyrie Irving trade request update: Clippers make offer, LeBron says “duh” Irving helps Lakers

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Nets fans booed Kyrie Irving when he was put up on the jumbotron at Barclays Center before the game Friday night (Irving was out vs. the Wizards).

Irving requested a trade out of Brooklyn before the Feb. 9 trade deadline, and the Nets are talking to several teams about a potential deal, with the Lakers, Suns and Mavericks at the front of the line. This trade could come together in the next few days, allowing the teams involved to make other moves before next Thursday’s deadline.

Here are the latest Kyrie Irving trade rumors:

• The Los Angeles Clippers have thrown their hat in the ring and made an offer for Irving, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by Law Murray of The Athletic.

There is pressure from ownership on down for the Clippers to win big this season — the team’s fourth with Kwahi Leonard and Paul George — and they need help at the point guard spot (they are interested in the Raptors’ Fred VanVleet if he becomes available as well). The Clippers have a lot of salaries between $10 million and $20 million — Norman Powell, Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard, Robert Covington, Reggie Jackson, Nicholas Batum — who can be packaged in different configurations, plus they have young talent that can be added in Terance Mann and Brandon Boston Jr.

Bringing in Irving would be a massive gamble by the Clippers — do they need another mercurial star prone to missing games? — but the Clippers want to win and will push all their chips into the middle.

LeBron James was asked after the Lakers’ loss Saturday night if Irving is the kind of player that can get the Lakers to the finish line and have them thinking championship.

“Obviously that’s, the word you use, ‘duh’ question when talking about a player like that.”

• Whatever you think of Irving the person, his trade demand is a smart business move — the Nets were not going to give him the max contract extension he wants, so he is trying to force his way to his next team, one that will pay up. And by pay up, that’s a four-year, $198.5 million contract. Wojnarowski of ESPN said this on NBA Countdown Saturday.

“Irving, who is in the final year of a deal that pays him $36.9 million, has been seeking in the neighborhood of a four-year, $198.5 million maximum extension available to him until June 30, sources said. If Irving is traded, he is eligible to sign a two-year, $78.6 million extension with his new team until June 30.”

Any team that trades for Irving will have to pay up this summer when he is a free agent — he’s too expensive to be a rental. There are reports the Lakers and Mavericks are hesitant to give Irving that kind of long-term deal.

• If Irving doesn’t get traded before the deadline, he could hold out for the rest of the season, Stephen A. Smith of ESPN reports.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
36

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,352

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks
Feb. 11 at Warriors
Feb. 13 at Trail Blazers

When is LeBron projected to break the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 9 at home against the Milwaukee Bucks, although a hot game on Feb. 7 against the Thunder could make that game a possibility.

How long has Kareem held the scoring record?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar set the all-time scoring record — too less fanfare than is happening with LeBron (although Wilt Chamberlain was unhappy with all the attention KAJ was receiving) — on April 5, 1984, when he scored his 31,420th point, breaking the record which had been held by Chamberlain. This was the height of the Showtime Lakers era and the team made the Finals that season but lost in seven games to Larry Bird and the Celtics. The Lakers would win the NBA title three of the next four years and Kareem would keep adding to that point total and his legacy until he retired after the 1989 season.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• LeBron tuned out the Lakers’ Kyrie Irving trade speculationat least until after the game — and dropped 27 points on the New Orleans Pelicans Saturday night, shooting 10-of-22 overall but 1-of-7 beyond the arc. It wasn’t enough as the Pelicans snapped their 10-game losing streak, 131-126, behind 35 points from former Laker Brandon Ingram. This was a tough loss for a Lakers team trying to climb up in the West standings, but it puts LeBron within striking distance of the record next game.

• LeBron scored 26 points and added seven rebounds and seven assists on Thursday night. He also gave the Lakers their first lead of the game on a 3-pointer with 2:35 left, and the Lakers held on to beat the Pacers 112-111. LeBron shot 11-of-19 from the floor and 2-of-5 from 3 for the game.

• LeBron had his first triple-double of the season — and became the first player ever with one in his 20th season — scoring 28 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists — to help lead the Lakers past the Knicks in overtime on Tuesday night. With those 11 assits LeBron moved past both Mark Jackson and Steve Nash to be fourth on the NBA’s all-time assists list.

• LeBron James did suit up to play Tuesday night against the Knicks (in Madison Square Garden on national television, that shouldn’t have been a surprise). Anthony Davis was cleared to play as well.

• After sitting out against the Nets on Monday, LeBron is officially questionable to play Tuesday in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and will be a game-time decision. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said LeBron has “really significant soreness” in his left foot (after playing 44 minutes against Boston). LeBron and the medical staff will speak after LeBron starts to warm up Tuesday to determine if LeBron can play in Madison Square Garden, a game he hates to miss because he loves playing in that venue.

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Kings active before trade deadline, looking to add defense

Philadelphia 76ers v Sacramento Kings
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Sacramento Kings will make their first playoff appearance since a Bush was in the White House (2006).

If the 29-22, third-seeded Kings will do damage in the postseason, their bottom 10 defense has to be better. The Kings are being active at the trade deadline with the focus being on a defensive upgrade, sources told NBC Sports. As bait, they are dangling their reserve bigs — Richaun Holmes and/or Alex Len — but the problem is the backup big market is busy at the trade deadline.

The Kings have been linked to the 76ers’ Matisse Thybulle, with Marc Stein confirming those talks are still ongoing (but the Hawks are chasing Thybulle, too). Stein added a new rumor, as well.

Sources say Sacramento has inquired about the availability of Charlotte’s Mason Plumlee.

Charlotte is selling and Plumlee would be an upgrade behind All-Star Domantas Sabonis.

One way or another, expect the Kings to try and make a move at the deadline.