Sacramento Kings forward Caron Butler's new memoir, "Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA," hit bookshelves Wednesday. If you're not sure you want to buy the autobiographical tale — which covers Butler's path from rough-and-tumble Racine, Wis., where he dealt drugs at age 11, ran with gangs and landed in juvenile court an estimated 15 times before he turned 15, to a stellar stint at UConn and a distinguished 13-year NBA career that's included two All-Star berths and one NBA championship — you can check out the first chapter here.
That chapter, which covers his emotions on the night of the 2002 NBA draft, when the Miami Heat selected him 10th overall, isn't the only excerpt Butler's using to promote his new venture. Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post's D.C. Sports Bog shared an excerpt Wednesday that includes Butler's first-person recounting of one of the more alarming and insane incidents in NBA history, an episode that six years later has been relegated to game-show fodder — the 2009 locker-room standoff in which Washington Wizards teammates Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton brandished firearms over a gambling debt.
As the story goes, in December 2009, Crittenton, a 6-foot-5 guard out of Georgia Tech, and Arenas — at that point a pair of injury-plagued seasons removed from his high-scoring All-Star peak — were arguing during a game of Bourré on the Wizards' flight home after playing the Phoenix Suns. Arenas later claimed he wasn't actually involved in the disputed bet, and that Crittenton had lost $1,100 to young center JaVale McGee, who'd been staked $200 by veteran point guard Earl Boykins.
The dispute continued, with multiple witnesses agreeing that "Arenas threatened to shoot Crittenton in the face and set his Escalade on fire and that Crittenton threatened to shoot Arenas in the knee." Later, Arenas reportedly brought four guns into the Wizards locker room, accompanied by a note calling on Crittenton to "PICK 1" to use in carrying out his threats of shooting Arenas. (Arenas later denied pulling a gun.) Crittenton reportedly responded by pulling his own weapon instead.
No bullets flew and cooler heads prevailed, but when the league learned of the incident, both Crittenton and Arenas were suspended for the remainder of the '09-'10 season.
Some of those details make their way into Butler's "Tuff Juice" re-telling. The differences, though — from Antawn Jamison restraining Crittenton on the plane to Butler's recollection of what transpired when the Wiz got back to work — might make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
From the Bog:
Everyone could hear Gilbert and Javaris going at it as we rode along [in an airport shuttle].
“I’ll see your [expletive] at practice and you know what I do,” Gilbert said.
“What the [expletive] you mean, you know what I do?” replied Javaris.
“I play with guns.”
“Well I play with guns, too.” [...]
When I entered the locker room, I thought I had somehow been transported back to my days on the streets of Racine. Gilbert was standing in front of his two locker stalls, the ones previously used by Michael Jordan, with four guns on display. Javaris was standing in front of his own stall, his back to Gilbert.
“Hey, MF, come pick one,” Gilbert told Javaris while pointing to the weapons. “I’m going to shoot your [expletive] with one of these.”
“Oh no, you don’t need to shoot me with one of those,” said Javaris, turning around slowly like a gunslinger in the Old West. “I’ve got one right here.”
He pulled out his own gun, already loaded, cocked it, and pointed it at Gilbert.
Sounds like a pretty fun day at the office ... and, based on Butler's account, a very iffy strategy on Arenas' part.
dude really set out all those guns and was surprised when the other dude drew down. just...wow.
— El Flaco (@bomani_jones) October 7, 2015
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As soon as the incident ended, Butler wrote, "I knew this was the end of the Washington franchise as we had known it." He was right. Over the next year and a half, the cornerstones of the Wizards clubs that had brought the organization back to respectability in the mid-2000s — Arenas, Butler, Jamison, Brendan Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson — were traded away, as the team attempted to distance itself rebuild around talented but immature players like McGee, Nick Young and Andray Blatche.
Those attempts were unsuccessful. The Wiz went a combined 98-214 from 2009-10 through 2012-13 before returning to legitimate Eastern Conference contention over the past two seasons behind post-"Pick One" draftees John Wall and Bradley Beal and a core of adult professionals like Nene, Marcin Gortat, Trevor Ariza and Paul Pierce brought in to wash away the stink of what had come before.
For the principals involved in the incident, the gun show would eventually prove to be the end of the NBA line. Arenas never regained his pre-injury form, spent a couple of unremarkable stints with the Orlando Magic and Memphis Grizzlies, and has been out of the NBA since the spring of 2012, mostly reappearing on our radar screens only when something weird happens off the court. It was a worrying red flag of what was about to unfold for Crittenton, who years later would be indicted on murder and drug charges, and in April was sentenced to 23 years in prison after entering a guilty plea on charges related to the 2011 shooting death of an Atlanta woman.
Questions still persist about the incident — for example, who actually reported it? — but one thing remains clear: the more we learn about what went on in the Wizards locker room that day, the luckier and more amazing it seems that everyone walked out of there in one piece.
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