Ex-NBA player Rasual Butler, 38, killed in car crash

Yahoo Sports
Rasual Butler, a hard-working swingman who carved out a 13-year NBA career, died Wednesday in a car crash. (Getty)
Rasual Butler, a hard-working swingman who carved out a 13-year NBA career, died Wednesday in a car crash. (Getty)

Former NBA player Rasual Butler died early Wednesday morning in a single-car crash in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office confirmed. Butler was 38.

According to TMZ Sports, who first reported the news, Butler was driving in the Studio City section of L.A. when he “lost control of his Range Rover around 2 a.m., struck a parking meter and slammed into a wall.” The vehicle was “traveling at speeds two to three times higher than the limit,” L.A. police told NBC Los Angeles. Police officials are still investigating the cause of the crash. NBC reported that there was a woman with Butler at the time of the crash who also died. TMZ reported that it was his wife, former “American Idol” contestant and R&B singer Leah LaBelle.

After twice earning First-Team All-Atlantic 10 conference honors during his four years at LaSalle University, the Philadelphia native and local prep/playground legend entered the NBA in 2002, drafted by the Miami Heat with the 24th pick in the second round, 53rd overall. The 6-foot-7 swingman faced an uphill battle for minutes on a Heat squad featuring Caron Butler and Eddie Jones on the wing, but he impressed Pat Riley and company with his work ethic, earning a spot in the rotation and making 72 appearances, including 28 starts, as a rookie.

That sort of story would play out again and again over the course of the next decade. Butler’s numbers would never leap off the page, and his individual offensive exploits rarely wowed you, but he just kept finding his role and filling it expertly. He played defense, he spaced the floor, he knocked down open shots, and he made sure that the ever-grinding lifers who sit at the head of NBA benches kept feeling compelled to call his number.

A consummate professional always ready to contribute, Butler carved out a niche that allowed him to spend 13 seasons in the NBA, averaging 7.5 points and 2.4 rebounds in 21.3 minutes per game for his career. Butler suited up for eight different franchises, beginning his career with the Heat before being traded to the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets and Los Angeles Clippers, and later signing with the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards and San Antonio Spurs.

Those last three stops were perhaps most impressive of all.

After being waived by the Raptors near the end of the 2011-12 season, Butler, then 32, spent a year away from the league, and found himself at a crossroads.

“It was humbling being waived,” he later said. “I remember how disappointed I felt in myself. I let [Toronto] coach Dwane Casey and the organization down. I wondered if I was finished. Most guys don’t get 10 years in the NBA.”

Faced with the prospect of being done, Butler instead went back to the start, back to basics, back to working out on his own and looking for any way to get himself back into the game. His opportunity came wearing overalls: he’d have to drop down a level, proving his worth in the D-League before he could drum up top-flight interest. So that’s what he did, linking up with the Tulsa 66ers for the 2012-13 campaign; he traded charter flights for bus rides, 15,000-seat arenas for small gyms, and glitz for grind. It suited him.

Butler averaged 17.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game for the 66ers, earning recognition as the D-League’s Impact Player of the Year. After that, he headed to the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League — where he “was almost 15 years older than some of those guys” — in hopes of proving to NBA decision-makers “that I still wanted to play and that I still could play, and that my body was in shape,” as he told the Indianapolis Star. It paid off in a training camp invite from the Pacers the following fall.

He sweated out every preseason cut, eventually breaking camp with the team and earning an opening night roster spot thanks in part to an injury sidelining All-Star swingman Danny Granger. The 34-year-old vet just kept answering coach Frank Vogel’s call, offering veteran leadership off the floor and filling his role on it, ultimately earning a full-season guarantee of his contract.

Come season’s end, those 50 solid games in Indianapolis earned him another training camp crack for the 2014-15 season, this time in D.C. Once again, he made the most of it, earning a spot on the Washington Wizards and quickly becoming a vital 3-and-D role player for Randy Wittman on a team that would go on to make the second round of the playoffs.

“This is my journey,” Butler told USA Today in December of 2014, in the midst of a strong stretch in Washington. “I just lean on my faith, put a lot of work in with the skills I’ve been blessed with and try to take advantage of opportunities when I get them.”

He’d get one more NBA opportunity the following season, joining up with the San Antonio Spurs, the gold standard of NBA professionalism, the franchise that loves nothing more than players who have “gotten over themselves” and who understand how the world works. Butler fit right in, averaging 9.4 minutes per game off Gregg Popovich’s bench while serving as a mentor figure for young perimeter talents like Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons.

San Antonio would be Butler’s last NBA home, as a non-guaranteed training camp deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves didn’t result in a job for the 2016-17 season. So Butler joined up with Ice Cube’s BIG3 summertime 3-on-3 league, averaging 11.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 21.2 minutes per game during the league’s inaugural season while showing that he wasn’t done with the game, and the game wasn’t done with him.

“This is a very fickle game,” Butler told Spurs.com during his year in San Antonio. “You can make shots one day and miss shots the next. But one cool thing about being here is that we don’t talk about that. We talk about the things we can control, like effort, like competing defensively, like playing together. You want to be there for family, and this is family.”

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