Getting to the NBA is not easy. Of the millions of kids playing basketball around the world today, only a very small percentage will make it to the Association. Along the way, there will be highs and lows, ups and downs.
The Wizards' Caron Butler shares his journey, a unique one, with NBA.com.
So what got you through that? What was it that kept you going?
CB: Faith. My grandmother told me to pick up a bible and just believe in God. God can hinder all obstacles that you're going through. And my mother staying in my corner, because a lot of parents, when kids fail, give up on them. A lot of the people that I was incarcerated with didn't have visitors, but my mother was always there, sometimes twice a day, uplifting my spirits and telling me to stay positive. And I think that really showed me how much she cared and believed in me. She believed in me more than I believed in myself.
Finish this sentence: Growing up, the basketball court was my...
CB: My savior, because that was my ticket out. A lot of people looked at it as a hobby, but I looked at it as my outlet out of the inner city.
To what lengths would you go for a chance to play basketball, even if it were just a shoot around?
CB: I have to play basketball every day ... touch a ball or watch film of older games or something. I have to do it. It's just a passion. It's a love. It's a ritual.
When I was incarcerated, I had to get to a basketball court all the time. When I got my hour of rec, even in the winter, I went outside, moved a little snow so I could shoot on the courts out there. I used to play for canteen. I used to play for cases of sodas and Little Debbie cakes when I was incarcerated. That's something big.
Who was your basketball hero and why?
CB: I have two in particular. Michael Jordan, obviously, because of the flash and glare that he played the game with. He was very graceful out there. And Magic Johnson, for the simple fact that, he was one of the guys that really transcended the game of basketball. From a basketball standpoint, he was a great player, but from an off-the-court standpoint, he's like the model guy that everyone should want to be like. What he's done as a businessman and how he conducts himself, he's one of the all-time great people.
What is your favorite childhood basketball memory?
CB: I went on a traveling team one time; it was a Junior Olympic type thing. I had to be 11 or 12 years old. We went to Puerto Rico and I had the time of my life. It was just a chance for me to see other cultures come together. I think there were a couple of teams from Africa and all over the world. And I got a chance to play against a lot of people and just learn about a lot of other things. It broadened my horizons in my life.
Best piece of basketball advice you received was...
CB: When I was at Connecticut, Coach Calhoun told me that basketball is a reflection of life. If you're tough on the court, if you don't let anything get in your way and if you're hard-nosed on the court, that's the same way you are in life. That was a real statement dictating on how I was.
What advice would you give to someone who aspires to play in the NBA?
CB: It's tough. If you're gonna choose to try to make it to the NBA, put your all into it, but know that you've got to be a student first before anything. Try to get your degree. Don't focus on just basketball.
When did you realize you had serious game?
CB: Playing AAU, I think it was in '96 or '97. There was a big-time tournament in Indiana. I played against Darius Miles, Dwyane Wade, Eddy Curry, Corey Maggette, Ronald Curry ... all of the biggest names in basketball at the time. I went out there and got MVP of the tournament. And I wasn't taking basketball that seriously at that point. I was reading stories about how they were the best players in the country. I went out there and held my own and I was like, "Man, I got the chance to do something special with this."
Did it ever strike you in the middle of a game in front of a packed house, "Man, I can't believe I'm here..."
CB: I do that all the time. I always get this feeling, I can't describe it, it's like a little crazy feeling that you get before every game when you come out of the tunnel and see the fans. Everybody is cheering or booing. It's a rewarding feeling like, "Man, I'm here. I get paid to play the game of basketball." It's an unbelievable feeling.
How proud is your family that you made it to the NBA?
CB: When we get together for the holiday or just have a big dinner, my mother always cries. My grandmother and her always express themselves on how hard times used to be and now things are just so great because of my situation and because God blessed me with this ability to play the game of basketball. So, we always reflect on it.