MILWAUKEE — Caron Butler was on the court getting up a pre-game sweat when several hundred African-American children and their guardians decended upon the lower-level seats at Bradley Center.
Butler stopped shooting and gave a woman and her husband a hug, and yelled a few shout-outs to some of the men in the stands and waived to the children, who were calling his name.
It was the first part of an even larger group of children from Butler’s nearby home of Racine that will be attending tonight’s game thanks to Butler, the Racine YMCA and a handfull of other organizations, who teamed up to donate tickets to tonight’s Wizards-Bucks game.
“It’s deep. It’s crazy,” Butler said. “The holidays and obviously Christmas you want to come back home and have a ball and see the support. The whole Racine crowd, it’s unbelievable. Them coming out and showing their generosity and support for the hometown native, it’s something special.”
Butler pointed out one man a few years older than him that he remembers watching play basketball at the rec center when he was growing up. And after talking to the media, he gave away an autographed jersey and addressed the children again.
“I feel home. It’s special,” Butler said. “You’re playing in front of people that have known you your whole life and love you outside the game of basketball. They’re here supporting you and to see the kids light up. This is every kids dream. I see them over there, particularly the males, and it’s a dream to be on this court. A lot of the older brothers I see out here, I grew up watching at local community centers, but their dreams didn’t come true so they’re living through me. So it’s special.”
Butler is hoping for a special result on the court tonight. He doesn’t have the greatest past when playing near his hometown. On April 1, 2007, while playing here against the Bucks, Butler fractured his hand while trying to block a shot and that ended his season. On Jan. 27, 2008, Butler went off for a career-high 40 points in an overtime loss at Milwaukee, but he later found out he tore the labrum in his left hip.
Butler jokingly crossed himself and offered a quick prayer, and said he’s hoping for a better result tonight even if it means he doesn’t have much to do with the outcome.
“Hopefully we get through. No injuries,” Butler laughed. “Safe and sound and most importantly get the victory. Some of the most explosive games I’ve had here but we didn’t come out on top. So I’d be satisfied a if I score two, three five, whatever, long as we get the win and I don’t have any injuries, I’m cool.”
Butler and the Wizards — who have lost three straight games here at Bradley Center — will be looking for their second straight victory after they beat the Philadelphia 76ers last night.
Flip Saunders said he will go with the same starting lineup of Arenas, Foye, Butler, Jamison and Haywood, but as he demonstrated last night when he benched all five at the same time in the third quarter. Saunders got the results he wanted as Earl Boykins, Nick Young, Dominic McGuire, Andray Blatche and Fabricio Oberto gave the energy the coach was looking for.
“More than anything, it was as much mental mistakes as physical mistakes,” Saunders said. “We just didn’t seem that we were into the game. we’d call a play and we’d have three guys go to a spot and two guys were kind of not at the spot. I thought we needed to get somebody in there who was going to have a little more mental quickness, which would lead to physical quickness.”
The move upset some of the starters, and some may be a little sore still, but Saunders said he doesn’t care.
“Doesn’t matter,” Saunders said. “If they want to mad at me and play that hard, then I’ll do that every game. As I told them after the game. I don’t have to make them happy. They have to make me happy. That’s the bottom line. I wasn’t happy. And the response from the crowd, I think that it was the loudest ovation until the end of the game. So evidently they felt the same way as I did.”
We’ll see if the Wizards can consistently play hard tonight or if Saunders has to pull another trick out of his bag to get things going.