From the Lock Up to Locker Room Leader: Sacramento King Caron Butler’s Journey

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SACRAMENTO --

From the lock up to locker room leader.

The catalyst for change on the Sacramento Kings comes from an unlikely influence: forward Caron Butler.

Butler’s beginnings in life set him on a path of crime rather than dominance on the court.

Courage, tenacity, mental toughness and endurance define basketball. They’re all displayed on the hardwood. They also define Butler.

“Therapeutic,” Butler said. “The whole process of just reflecting over the years."

Butler's journey began on the streets of Racine, Wisconsin.

At 11 years old, he was selling drugs and had a gun at 12.  He was arrested 15 times before he was able to legally drive.

“Everything I went through, I had to go through, and I accept it, and I wouldn't change it,” he said.

Butler's downward spiral came to an abrupt stop during a drug bust and a chance meeting with Sgt. Rick Geller.

“He's my guardian angel, because if he didn't do what he did that day, all this, I wouldn't be sitting here with you. I wouldn't probably have the family and structure that I had,” he said.

Geller believed Butler was innocent and let him go. It was a small decision with a big impact.

“I vowed to him that at some point, when the time is right, that story is going to be told, because so many stories are told about the bad side of police,” Butler said.

Butler pursued his basketball dreams and soared.

At UConn, he led the team to an Elite Eight showing at the NCAA Tournament and was named second team All American.

Not long after, he became the 10th overall pick in the draft.

He went from handcuffs to the NBA in less than a decade.

"It's powerful because people say 'You inspired me,' and 'You gave me hope,' 'Keep doing what you're doing,'" he said.

Butler's struggle and resilience have turned him into a team leader in a season that could be a turning point for the Kings.

“Even if we win three or four games in a row, and stuff like that, I will always be the guy to put things into perspective in the locker room and stuff like that. You can't get too high or too low,” Butler said.

From down-and-out to the height of success.

Butler's rough start has served him well in a profession of excess and egos. It was a blessing that gave him purpose and the ability to see big picture.

“I realized this kid was trying to do what was right,” said Sgt. Geller, in a recent visit to Sacramento.

The two reunited recently to share their story.

“I gave him a big hug, embraced him, and told him what he meant to me and how he altered everything," Butler said.

He said basketball is a metaphor for life. There are lessons of perseverance, balance and never giving up.

It's a message he shares with kids sharing the same struggle.

“We're on this platform like this, and you can influence so many. And that's what I prefer my legacy to be, not a jump shot or what I did on the court. I’m talking about empowering lives," Butler said.

Like the city's motto: Bigger than basketball.

Caron details his journey in his new book, "Tuff Juice." He is also an entrepreneur and proud father of four.