As a young man, Caron Butler was no stranger to the police. His history, although short in years, was long in criminal activity. He was selling drugs by age 12 and had been arrested 15 times by the time he turned 15 years old. After spending one year in a maximum-security juvenile detention center, that’s when he decided to turn his life around.
The fact is, he was still just a kid who had been through more than his fair share of struggle and was scared to death when one day the police stormed through his door as he lay sick in bed.
He thought he’d put his drug-dealing past behind him.
Earlier that winter day in 1998 in Wisconsin, Officer Rick Geller had obtained a search warrant to enter where Butler was staying after an informant told him he had purchased drugs at the house.
Geller was ready for a quick arrest and “case closed,” having known about Butler’s history before making the bust. He would soon find out that what he knew about Butler wasn’t all there was to it.
“I’m thinking I’m going to nail this kid,” Geller said during a ‘Champions of Change Law Enforcement and Youth’ event at the White House, as reported by USA Today. “We end up executing the warrant and I get inside and I start talking to this young man.”
Butler’s fate was in the hands of the police officer.
Geller, in questioning Butler at the scene, noticed he had what looked like burns on his hand. “’Where are you working now?’” Geller asked Butler. “‘I’m at Burger King,” Butler replied. Those four words opened a door for Butler that even he never imagined.
Officer Geller was wise to how things operated where he worked, and most guys he knew selling drugs didn’t typically work an hourly wage job. And if they did, they took plenty of heat from those who were.
Butler had $11 in his pocket that day. “That suggested to me someone who was not dealing drugs at the time,” said Geller. “So when I talked to him, I could see tears in his eyes.”
Geller gave Butler the break of a lifetime.
Geller, a police veteran, chose not to charge Butler. If he had, Butler would face the possibility of at least 10 years in prison. “That means that all my basketball dreams and everything I wanted or could have become would have been gone,” said Butler.
“It could have went the wrong way,” said Butler. “But it didn’t. And he was clowned for the decision that he made because the police officers were like ‘why didn’t you convict that kid?’ And he was like ‘I didn’t think he was guilty and he’s a good person, he’s a good kid.’ And if you have more situations and more officers out there doing that, I think a lot of change will happen.”
Butler went on to get a college basketball scholarship.
Butler would go on to play college basketball at UConn, leading to a 14-year career in the NBA, last playing with the Sacramento Kings.
He is now 37 years old and things look a little different.
He visits kids who are incarcerated and shares his story with them, hoping it will serve as an inspiration. He also is involved in helping charities like Cops n’ Kids, Carson’s Coats For Kids, and the Bike Brigade.
Also, knowing that his job at Burger King was one thing that helped keep him from dealing drugs, he now owns six of the fast food restaurants around the country.
He’s on a mission to inspire.
Butler, now an NBA champion, wants to help find ways to support police officers like Geller. It was his compassion that made it possible to follow his dreams. And, Butler knows he is not alone. He encourages other players to tell their stories too to create positive attitudes towards the police.
“When I first came to the NBA, a lot of guys used to talk about ‘this is where I come from’ or talking about certain situations but when I told a lot of my closest peers that I was telling this story, a lot of guys were like ‘wow, I had a crazy experience with an officer, this is what happened.’
“There’s a lot of bigger name stars out there that have a lot of information and a lot of stories to tell and hopefully can inspire a lot of lives,” he said.