When he’s not back in his native Racine, Wis., dedicating a new basketball court, traveling the world as a member of the board of directors for the NBA’s Retired Players Association or advocating against mass incarceration with the Vera Institute of Justice, Caron Butler spends most of his time in Los Angeles. He’s overseeing the making of two films, including his biopic, which is being produced by Mark Wahlberg, and working on a second book. Beginning this fall, the 39-year-old Butler will add Wizards TV analyst to his numerous pursuits.
Butler originally auditioned for the analyst position that opened up when play-by-play man Steve Buckhantz’s longtime broadcast partner and Bullets legend, Phil Chenier, was moved out of the role after the 2016-17 season. Kara Lawson ultimately got the job, but Butler, who spent five of his 14 NBA seasons in Washington, told people at the network to keep him in mind if another opportunity arose.
NBC Sports Washington decided not to bring back the beloved Buckhantz for a 23rd season and announced Fox Sports’ Justin Kutcher as his replacement last month. The network hired former Wizard Drew Gooden to replace Lawson, who left after two seasons to become an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics a couple of weeks earlier, and reached out to Butler about joining Kutcher in the booth for a select number of games.
“God works in mysterious ways, man,” Butler, who is expected to call roughly 20 Wizards games while continuing to contribute to Turner Sports’s NBA coverage, said in a phone interview. “They understood where I was at and knew if I could participate, it would be me coming in for a small pocket of games.”
Butler said he owes his interest in broadcasting to Chenier, who served as a Wizards TV analyst for 33 years, and recalled one particularly affecting conversation with Chenier before the start of one of his five seasons in D.C.
“I fell in love with the interviewing process,” said Butler, who has worked as an NBA and college basketball analyst for ESPN, Fox Sports, Turner and NBA TV over the past two years. “The reason I felt so comfortable to open up to him is because I was once him. I felt like he was so open in our one-on-one discussion. I said I would like to be on the other side of this one day, being in that chair, just talking. That was huge for me. Mr. Chenier, he did that for me, and hopefully I can do that for others.”
The Wizards acquired Butler via a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers in July 2005. Led by the core of Butler, Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas, Washington made the playoffs in each of the next three years. Butler quickly established himself as a fan favorite and set a career high in points per game in each of his first four seasons in D.C. (Jamison, coincidentally, is also rejoining the Wizards as the newly appointed director of pro personnel.)
Some of Butler’s fondest memories in Washington include the team’s trip to China in 2009, spending time with Wes Unseld and establishing the Wizards as a regular postseason participant. Things went south beginning in December 2009, when Arenas and Javaris Crittenton brought loaded guns into the locker room, a franchise-altering incident that Butler recalled in his 2015 memoir, “Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA.”
In February 2010, with Arenas suspended indefinitely and the Wizards in the midst of a dismal season, Butler was traded to the Mavericks in a deal that brought four players, including Gooden, to Washington. Gooden played the final three seasons of his 14-year NBA career in the District and filled in for Lawson as the analyst on several Wizards broadcasts last season.
“Adding Caron Butler and Drew Gooden, we’ve been able to go back about 15 years into Wizards history, with two of the most popular players of this era working our games,” NBC Sports Washington General Manager Damon Phillips said. “We wanted to make sure there was a connection to D.C. and to the team, someone the fans were familiar with.”
Butler, who is producing a documentary about the racial inequality within the cannabis industry, said he considers the District a second home. Last year, he was in town to present Monumental Sports Network’s three-part documentary series “Seeing is Believing: The Caron Butler Story” at Capital One Arena and was struck by the reception he received.
“The love never changed,” Butler said. “When I walked in, everyone from the concession stand workers to the people at the doors, the connection, the warmth I felt in my heart, I was like, you know what, I want to come back here in some capacity. I don’t care if it’s five games. I just want to be back here. It meant a lot to me.”
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