Stay tuned, was the gist of his response.
And for good reason. Butler and his longtime friend Mark Wahlberg announced this week an official agreement for the future production of a film version of “Tuff Juice: My Journey From the Streets to the NBA.” While an actual movie is years away, the deal — which also includes Wahlberg’s partners at Leverage Entertainment, Music for the People and Closest to the Hole Productions — officially moves forward a process that began with informal conversations between the two men.
The contract gives Wahlberg the option to play a part of his choosing in the film; possible roles might include Richard Geller, the Racine investigator whose decision to go easy on a teen-aged Butler helped lead to his life turnaround. The two men have already chatted with some screenwriters and considered a few acting names. And Butler — a 14-year veteran now with the Sacramento Kings — plans to be involved in every step of this process.
Caron Butler, movie producer?
“It’s unimaginable,” he told me in a phone conversation on Friday. “It’s a dream come true. I’m living a dream. This is a special moment, not just for me but for people that think these things can’t happen. Seeing is believing. C’mon, man: south side of Racine, Wisconsin, seeing all this adversity, seeing all these things. And now I’m blessed to be in the position to call Mark Wahlberg my friend, a guy I can do projects with. Just being in this position with this platform is a blessing, man, and I don’t take it for granted.”
Butler met Wahlberg when he played for the Los Angeles Clippers between 2011 and 2013, and the two became close. Butler once sent the actor a video piece on his life produced by FSN Prime Ticket, which broadcasts Clippers games; “man, this could be a great movie,” Wahlberg told him.
“Damn, you serious?” Butler said he replied, and Wahlberg asked for more information. Butler was already writing his book by this point, and promised to get a copy to Wahlberg as soon as it was finished.
Wahlberg ended up blurbing “Tuff Juice,” but he also told Butler that he hadn’t changed his opinion about the story’s potential. He asked if he could get first rights on a movie treatment, so he could turn the book “into something special and put it on the big screen.”
“And he held true to his word,” Butler said. “He always said he wanted it be a partnership, that he wanted to take me along the process in the right way. Now we’re moving forward.”
The two men still have to take the project to studios, create a budget and wrestle with a host of challenges foreign to an NBA player. Wahlberg is also involved with several other projects that need to be completed before this one gets his full attention. But Butler said he isn’t concerned about moving the project along.
Wahlberg’s “all-in, man,” Butler said. “He wants this to happen. Just as much as I’m calling him, he’s been calling me. So it’s something he’s passionate about, as well.”
The passage of Butler’s book that got the most attention upon its release concerned Gilbert Arenas and guns in an NBA locker room, but that was a tiny sliver of the story, and almost irrelevant to the larger point. That message, at least according to Butler’s book, was that a kid who sold cocaine out of a red wagon, got a gun at the age of 12 and bought a car not long after, somehow reached a better place. That a teenager who saw ATF agents pull their guns on him at school and a judge call him a menace to society eventually wound up a world away from the streets.
So turning his story into a movie was always the plan, right?
“Hell no,” Butler said. “I mean, everybody’s got a story. Some have more adversity that they had to overcome to make things happen. And at the end, your definition of success varies. … There’s so many other guys like me that’s going through things, and they need to know that while you’re going through these things, while you’re going through the trenches, you can make it out. The reality of it is things happen, and there’s still life after that.”