Caron Butler’s NBA career saw him play for nine teams and win an NBA championship.
But for Butler, his wild ride through the league that is now coming to an end will always trace back to his start with the Miami Heat and to its current president and former coach Pat Riley.
Butler, 37, announced Tuesday in a touching post on The Players Tribune that he is retiring from the NBA. None of it would be possible, Butler said, if not for a phone call and some tough love.
The Miami Heat selected Butler out of Connecticut with the 10th overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, and Butler would play his first two seasons with the Heat. Butler talked with Riley shortly afterward. The next day, Butler and his family were on the Heat’s private plane from Racine, Wisconsin, to Miami. It was the first time Butler’s mom, Mattie, flew on a plane.
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“From the moment I hung up after our first call on draft day, to the moment I stepped inside the Miami Heat facilities, it was like an out-of-body experience,” Butler wrote. “I felt like I had really made it, like I was about to become somebody, you know what I mean? I was just the happiest guy in the world.”
Riley quickly made sure Butler, then a 22-year-old rookie, remained grounded. His message, according to Butler: “Your locker is over there. If you arrive to practice an hour early — you’re late. You should start working out tomorrow morning. And what was your name again?”
“That was the Heat vibe,” Butler wrote. “It was a helluva transition — private plane to a limousine, cruising the streets of a brand new city with my family, everyone being proud of me — and then actually starting practice … because that’s where you see the other side of Pat Riley. It’s the s— that got him those championship rings. It’s Pat basically saying to you, ‘Get to work right away or you’re not going to make the team.’ ”
Needless to say, he made the team and was a valuable player for his two seasons. In total, he played 146 games for the Heat (134 starts). He was named to the NBA All-Rookie team in 2003 after averaging 15.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game. Butler started all 13 of the Heat’s games in the 2004 playoffs, averaging 12.8 points and 8.5 rebounds over 39.3 minutes per game.
And then the journey began. Following the 2004 season, Butler was part of the Heat’s trade package along with Lamar Odom and Brian Grant for Shaquille O’Neal.
Butler spent one year with the Lakers before having stints with the Wizards (2006-2010), the Mavericks (2009-2011), the Clippers (2011-2013), the Bucks (2013-2014), the Thunder (2013-2014), the Pistons (2014-2015) and the Kings (2015-2016). He was on the Mavericks’ roster when they won the 2011 NBA Finals over the Heat but did not play after undergoing surgery for a ruptured right patellar tendon earlier in the season. He was named an All-Star in both 2007 and 2008.
But even with all of his success and the longevity of his career, Butler continues to point back to Miami.
“I can’t say it enough — the Miami Heat organization is the reason I was able to last so long in the NBA,” he wrote. “I went in with, I think, a solid mindset to start out — the desire, the willpower, whatever you want to call it. But playing in Miami — playing for Pat Riley and Stan Van Gundy — there was a culture about working hard that blew me away. They taught me the right way to practice. The right way to train. The right way to prepare for games. All the little things mattered. That stuff gets lost when you’re seeing NBA players on TNT every night.”