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On Caron Butler and Straws

The bad news today is that evidence pointing toward the end of Caron Butler's season continues to pile up. The good news is that this provides some justification for my long-awaited straw-chewing expose, to be shown, in video format, on Comcast SportsyNet at around 6:05 or 6:10 this evening.

There are, at this point, dozens of Innertube (get it?) links about Caron Butler and his straw habit. But I wanted to know more. I still had questions. I never saw the ESPN piece on the subject, so I entered the Wiz locker room recently in prime investigative journalist mode. First came Antawn Jamison. Somehow my query touched off an exchange between Jamison and Chick Hernandez on cinnamon-flavored toothpicks--Jamison used to play with "Pig" Miller, who would take the court with a toothpick in his mouth--but eventually we got to the bottom of the cup, so to speak. I asked whether Jamison know about Butler's habit before they became teammates.

"Nah, I mean, eventually you figure it out because the guy would always have a straw in his mouth," he said. "Not that weird. I mean, you get used to it, it's an every day routine, an every day thing with him."

"They should make a PSA for it: Kids, don't chew straws," Chick Hernandez suggested.

The man and his straws.

"Yeah. Isn't it, like dangerous?" Jamison wondered. "Just to chew on it, it's like, chemicals and stuff in that. It's not good for you at all. It's not good for you to chew on straws." [Note: These claims have not been evaluated by the FDA; always check with your doctor before beginning a new habit.]

Jamison was worried about the additives; I was more concerned about the choking hazard.

"If he ain't choked by now, he ain't gonna choke, I guess," Brendan Haywood said. I offered Haywood a straw; he declined. He's a gum man. Trident. Tropical Twist. But you probably knew that.

I asked Roger Mason whether his braces would allow for him to chew straws.

"Probably not," he said. "But I used to chew straws when I was a kid. Never played ball with 'em. I mean, after I was done drinking a soda, yeah, but I never played with 'em."

Then I asked DeShawn Stevenson about the straws, and he dropped a breaking news bombshell, at least to me.

"Like I chew on the dental sticks, he chews on straws," he said. The dental sticks? What are the dental sticks? It turns out, the dental sticks are those little individual-serving plastic flossers you see every now and then in drugstores. In fact, Stevenson had a 60-pack as he left practice today. He typically goes through 10 or so per game, chewing on 'em in the locker room and even during shootaround and layup lines and introductions. I asked whether he wasn't worried about sending a dental stick through his lip.

"Nuh-uh," he said. "I'm talented."

I also asked how he picked up this particular habit, and his reply raised more questions than it answered.

"I used to chew on, the little, you know how you pull the tag off your shoestring?" he said. "They said that would chip your tooth, so I just went to this one day. After that, it was easy."

Really, I'm still not sure what tags he means, but I couldn't lose focus. This is about straws; dental sticks is for another playoff series. Thanks to the Wizards PR staff, which continues to humor me for who knows what reason, I lined up a straw-based one-on-one interview with the subject himself.

Butler said he used to chew toothpicks, but that was frowned upon during games, so he picked up the straw habit back in AAU ball in '98 or '99.

"I had a good performance and it was something that became a habit, and I started doing it all the time," he said. "So before every game I stop at the nearest Burger King or McDonald's, grab a handful of straws and come to the game and start chewing them....You know, I've got a handful on me right now."

With this, he pulled probably 8 to 10 McDonald's straws out of his breast pocket. It's a weird calling card, the straws. Later, CSN producer Adam Littlefield and I were strolling through a Verizon Center tunnel when we saw a little white thing on the ground. We hovered over it, two Gil Grissoms on the prowl for some forensic evidence. Sure enough, it was a straw wrapper.

A used straw wrapper. Artistic, no? I'm willing to sell the image.

More facts: Butler said he goes through about six straws a half, about 12 a game. He only has one in his mouth at a time. He spits them out when they "start getting a little stringy." He also chews at home. His young daughter, Mia, has started imitating him, walking around the house with a straw in her mouth (but never running, thankfully). He doesn't think it's a dangerous habit, and in fact has only had one cavity in his life. His wife, Andrea, told us that she is somewhat of an enabler; she'll stop off at McDonald's and pick up a handful of straws for her husband. Like, 60 straws. Daily. "And then if he goes on his own he gets some himself," she said. This, friends, is a full-fledged addiction.

I asked Andrea Butler if she minded the habit.

"Only when I find them in our driveway, when he throws them out the window as he's pulling up," she said.

Finally, while talking to Butler, we unveiled our wares: about 10 straws, collected from a variety of local eateries. We had hoped he might sample them. But we underestimated his palate. I quickly felt like a heel, like I had just offered Robert Parker a chilled bottle of Corbett Canyon.

"I did all these before," he said, clearly bored. "This is a McDonald's straw," he continued, seizing the one McDonald's straw in our collection and pocketing it. There were no markings on the wrapper, no colors, nothing to suggest McDonald's. It was remarkable. He's a straw savant.

"I know McDonald's straws," he told us. "Trust me, I've been in this game a long time. This is a McDonald's straw and all these, hold on don't say anything, like a 7-11 big slurpee thing or something."

He began to lose interest in our stash.

"I don't do these," he said. "I don't do 7-11 straws or anything. McDonald's, Burger King, that's it. Not Wendy's. Maybe Subway, because their straw is thick, clear, with a clear wrapping, but that's it, McDonald's, Burger King....Cheesecake Factory's got the black straws, they're kind of thick. That's good quality straws."

It was a virtuoso performance. I'm not kidding, when he plucked that McDonald's straw out of my hands I was every bit amazed as when Gilbert hit all those one-handed three-pointers. So the conclusion, Wizards fans, is that even if Caron Butler does not play one minute in this series, he is still out there working his magic, and chewing his plastic.

And Cavs fans, no need to make the inevitable "The Wizards sure suck" jokes.

By Dan Steinberg  |  April 24, 2007; 3:53 PM ET
Categories:  Wizards  
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