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Caron Butler, Former UConn Great, Announces His Retirement From NBA

When it came to Jim Calhoun’s attention that the Wahlberg brothers, the prominent Hollywood producers, were planning to make a movie about the life of Caron Butler, Calhoun immediately contacted his former player and submitted a formal request.

“I told Caron only one thing,” Calhoun said. “I’m a 28-year member of SAG [the Screen Actors Guild], and there is only one person who can play Jim Calhoun. Unfortunately, it would take a little makeup, but the voice is still there.”

In all his years as a Hall of Fame basketball coach, a span of time from 1972 to 2012, its unlikely there has been a player Calhoun adored any more than Butler, even though they spent only two years together at UConn.

And so it was with great interest and respect that Calhoun received the news Tuesday that Butler, 37, had announced his retirement from the NBA.

“He calls me up every Father’s Day and says, ‘Hello, Pop,’” Calhoun said. “That’s pretty special to me. That’s why some of us love coaching so much. You get to see kids’ growth from boys to men. From Pat Riley, to everyone that’s been associated with him, Caron is a special guy.”

Butler, who overcame a problematic childhood to star at UConn and play for nine NBA teams from 2002-16, used The Players Tribune to make his announcement.

“I hope that when you think of the name Caron Butler, you remember how much I loved and respected the game,” Butler wrote. “I hope you have an image of a guy who gave it everything he had, physically and mentally. I know it’s a cliche, but this really was more than a game for me — it was what saved me from a very grim future.”

Born in Racine, Wis., Butler survived a difficult childhood that led him to dealing drugs at 12. He had his first child when he was only 14.

“At age 16, I was incarcerated after police found drugs and a pistol in my locker at school,” Butler wrote. “I almost lost everything on more than one occasion, and I lost a lot of people close to me at a very young age.”

It was at a youth detention center, where reading bible verses began to change his life, that he began playing basketball, and after a brief high school career in Racine, he enrolled at Maine Central Institute, which is where Calhoun found him.

“When I went to Racine to find out more about Caron, everyone loved the guy, although there were times when he was with the wrong crowd,” Calhoun said. “I quickly fell in love with a guy who soon became one of my favorite people of all time.”

What was also clear was that Butler felt the same way about Calhoun.

“He was like the father I never had,” Butler said. “He gave me the opportunity to live my dream. I just want to say that anything is possible.”

Butler led UConn in scoring and rebounding as a freshman in 2000-01 and followed that by averaging 20.3 points and 7.5 rebounds as a sophomore to lead the program to Big East regular season and tournament titles.

Butler was named co-Big East player of the year — along with Pittsburgh’s Brandin Knight — and second-team All-America. He led the Huskies to the Elite Eight, where they lost to Maryland despite 32 points from Butler.

“He had a lot of natural ability,” Calhoun said of Butler. “He had a huge hands, a big heart. He was a very gifted athlete, but when I first saw him, he must have weighed 250. He said, ‘How I am going to be used by you?’ He was probably expecting something flowery. But he got the truth. I told him he’d probably have his ass on the bench unless he got himself into shape. He still talks about that.”

On the night in February 2016, when Butler’s jersey was added to UConn’s “Huskies of Honor,” Calhoun remembered something he once told him.

“I’m not going to make you the best Caron Butler, the ballplayer, you can be," Calhoun said. “I’m going to make you the best Caron Butler you can be. Period.”

Butler’s relationship with the program has grown as time has passed. Butler and his wife, Andrea, made what the school called “a meaningful gift” that was applied to the finishing touches on the Werth Family Center.

“Andrea and I met at UConn, and it has always held a special place in our hearts,” Butler said in a statement released by the UConn Foundation. “Being recognized in the Huskies of Honor event brought back so many incredible memories and emotions. Coach Jim Calhoun and all the coaches — Karl Hobbs, Dave Leitao, George Blaney, Tom Moore — played a critical role in my life, and we are blessed to be able to give back in this small way.”

Butler began his NBA career as a lottery pick (10th overall) by the Miami Heat in 2002, and he was named the NBA’s rookie of the month four times. Following the 2003 season, the Heat dealt him to the Lakers in a major trade that brought Shaquille O’Neil to Los Angeles.

“The sting [of the trade] didn’t last very long. It’s just something that comes with growing up in this league,” Butler wrote. “I was so used to staying in one place growing up that naturally I expected to be in Miami for my entire career.”

After playing in all 77 games for the Lakers in 2004-05, he was traded to Washington, where he signed a four-year, $46 million deal.

Butler would play in Washington until the end of the 2009-10 season before being traded to Dallas. It was with the Wizards that he had his two best seasons, averaging 20.3 points in 2007-08 and 20.8 in 2008-09.

At that point, he began bouncing around the NBA, to the Clippers, Bucks, Thunder, Pistons and Kings, for whom he played in just 17 games through the end of the 2015-16 season, his last in the NBA.

“Being traded helped teach me the truth about the business of basketball,” Butler wrote. “Soon, anywhere I went, I just tried to be an example in practice … always in the gym, always trying to be better, doing the little things.”

Butler played in 881 regular season games, averaging 14.1 points. He was a two-time All-Star.

In 2015, he released an autobiography: “Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA,” and in 2017 he joined ESPN as a full-time college basketball analyst.

“Caron is one of the best [people] I ever had [met], in basketball and life,” Calhoun said.

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