There has been much that has gone wrong for Milwaukee this year, starting with an injury to point guard Brandon Knight, a poor start followed by a broken thumb sustained during a night-club incident for center Larry Sanders, and the 2-11 start that has come about as a result.

For small forward Caron Butler, himself dealing with a shoulder injury, despite all that

, there is a little extra reason to give thanks this time of year. Throughout his career, Butler has maintained a special bond with his hometown of Racine, Wisc., from afar, including giving Thanksgiving meals to hundreds of families, a tradition he continued this holiday season. But for the first time since he was a teenager, Butler is playing home games just a stone’s throw from his hometown, a short drive north in Milwaukee.

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“I always do charity events on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but to me, to be able to do it here on this platform, I am really going to capitalize on this opportunity,” Butler told Sporting News. “I think it is our job to inspire these kids as much as possible. I think I have a story they can relate to.”

Probably even a more difficult story than most can relate to. When Butler was growing up in Racine, he had all too much trouble resisting the lure of Racine’s dark side, and fell into dealing drugs as early as the sixth grade. He was a regular in juvenile court before the age of 15, and did an 18-month sentence for possession of drugs and a gun (Butler has said he told the police the drugs and gun were his to cover for a friend).

He was able to pull himself out of that life, go to Connecticut on a basketball scholarship and work himself into an NBA star. Since then, Butler’s priority has been working with the kids of his hometown.

“It has been something that I have been doing since 2002, when I first got drafted,” he said. “Every summer, I would come back and we would have a lot of people come in, celebrities, we would have youth panels and just share stories from different walks of life. We try to encourage kids to do something with their lives. I want them to understand that no matter how hard things get, they can get better. I had to get through a lot before I got to the NBA, and it is important for kids to know that story.”
What has shifted for Butler now, though, is that at age 33, he finds himself the oldest guy on the Milwaukee roster. Which, actually, is how he wanted it. In the summer, Butler was part of a trade that sent Eric Bledsoe to the Clippers, while he landed in Phoenix. But Butler and his agent talked with the Suns, trying to see if there was a way to get him to Milwaukee, which was lacking at small forward.

“I knew what Milwaukee was in need of,” Butler said. “The Suns understood; they were very good, very classy about it. It was a good situation for everyone. In Milwaukee, they were on board with it, too. It was a great situation for both of us.”
Now, Butler has been taking on the role of elder statesman, which is fitting. Few players have been as involved—whether as the centerpiece or on the fringe—in as many monumental moments in the NBA in the last decade than Butler.
After just two seasons in Miami, he was dealt to the Lakers as part of the epic Shaquille O’Neal trade, what he called, “a big shock.” He did not fit well with Kobe Bryant in LA and was sent to Washington with a big contract, where he made the All-Star team twice, but then watched the team disintegrate because of an injury to fellow star Gilbert Arenas, whose tenure ended in ignominy with a half-season suspension soon after a gun incident in 2009.
Butler wound up in Dallas, where he helped get the Mavs off to a great start in 2010-11 before suffering a season-ending knee injury in early January. But, with Butler as a voice on the bench and in the locker room, Dallas managed to pull off the enormous Finals upset of LeBron James and the Heat.
“Obviously, you want to play,” Butler said. “I got the injury, but I was there for the first half of the season. I thought I was still a voice in the locker room; I tried to be a loud voice throughout the whole run. It was special to be part of that. I will always be a champion because of that. I was grateful to Mark Cuban and all the guys for staying with me during everything. When I got my surgery, before I was flying back to Dallas, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd pulled me aside and told me, ‘We are going to do this for you.’ That meant a lot.”
It is that trove of experience that Butler is relying upon to try to pull the Bucks out of their early doldrums. It starts with the enigmatic Sanders, who signed a four-year, $44 million contract in the offseason, but has had virtually nothing go right since.
“I have told him, continue to seek advice from the older guys who have been through it, guys who have seen it,” Butler said. “The season is not over. Learn from it. Continue to work on your craft and get better. Stay focused. Whatever he needs, we are here for him, he knows that. We need him. He is the key to us in the middle. We need him to be that back-line anchor. When he comes back, we will be ready with open arms.”
After the ordeals and ups and downs that Butler has seen, some injuries and a nightclub fight is nothing that can’t be overcome. He is only 33, but just as in Racine, he is trying to offer a helping hand to the young guys in the Bucks’ locker room.
“It is funny, you don’t think of yourself as old or anything,” Butler said. “But I realize I have been around, and I now have a lot of experience, a lot of stories to share with my brothers who I play with now. I have been through a lot of adversity on the court, I have been through a lot of adversity off the court in my life. Now I can share what I have been through. Hopefully, it can add some light to what the younger guys are going through. Tell them to stay with it, stay determined, throughout all adversity.”