Remembering Butler, Haywood and DeShawn
As you know, Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood got traded to Dallas over the weekend for a Chipotle burritos and several million dollars of flexibility, as they say. In case there's any confusion, I have never said that it wasn't time for the Wizards to deal, whether the Mavs trade was the proper deal or not. I also have never said that it matters more for a team to be weird and quirky and fun-loving than to actually win basketball games.
But for a good long while, before I discovered the wonder of putting the word "Redskins" in headlines, and before the Caps became a winning machine, I relied on the Wizards for most of my best material. And the obliged, with Butler, Stevenson and Haywood each enormously helpful, each in his own way.
Caron was charming, eloquent, charismatic, clever and just a pleasure to talk to, at basketball games or at his numerous charitable ventures. (Jamie Mottram also says he was one of the five best Bullets of the past 25 years.) Haywood was the best one-line quipper I've ever interviewed. And DeShawn was nuttier than the bulk food aisle at the co-op. Each also took considerable time out for me over the years, especially back when I was asking exclusively stupid questions instead of questions about actual sporting events.
So, before they're completely forgotten, let me include 10 favorite moments. And I know the time for saying goodbye was sometime over the weekend, but give me a one-day extension, please.
10. Dap, on the Black-Hand Side
Caron always liked to slap five with his teammates using the back of his hand. This was kind of a new one to me, so I asked him about it once, and his answer typified his whole persona.
"It's old school," he told me. "You know, watching 'Shaft' and 'Willie Dynamite' and all them brothers back in the day. You know, it's something cool just to give skinnnnn--that's what they call it--on the black-hand side....I make everybody do it. When I give people dap coming out of the warm-ups, I give everybody dap on the black-hand side."
9. Haywood vs. Mike Brown
Among the many story lines during the 2008 playoff series with the Cavaliers was Brendan Haywood, playfully jabbing at Cleveland Coach Mike Brown. It was funny.
"You know, any time LeBron gets touched, Mike runs out there like LeBron got shot or something," Brendan said. "Calm down Mike. It's not that serious. We're not trying to take him out. It's all within the confines of the game. I don't see how coaches should be running out on the court like that anyway. Isn't there a coach's box? Since we're talking about the confines of the league rules, he shouldn't be out of the box....
"I mean, you have to realize, the league has changed, so a lot of the plays that we're making now, yeah, back in the early '90s they were plays that would be like, 'All right, go to the free-throw line and shoot your two.' Now, guys are getting kicked out of the game for 'em. Truthfully, I think Varejao's foul was harder than mine. I mean, he made no play on the ball with Blatche, he just tried to sic 'em like he was Nikita Koloff."
Mixing an '80s wrestling reference with a shot at LeBron James? That's a winning combination.
8. Tough Juice
Is there a better nickname in D.C. sports? Has there ever been? The first mention in our paper came in April of 2006, in a Mike Wise column:
He's become the ornery character this franchise has sought for so long. Butler was bowling over teammates earlier this season during a scrimmage, lowering his shoulder and knocking people out of his path. When some of the Wizards complained, he looked at them incredulously. "Man, you guys need to drink some tough juice!" he said. Tough juice. That became Jordan's nickname for him. Brendan Haywood does not drink tough juice.
Caron always preferred the Tuff Juice spelling, but when he shaved it into his head, he went Tough.
7. DeShawn's Shooting Contest with Gilbert
Ok, bad choice of words. But that day at practice when Gilbert took 100 one-handed college threes, and DeShawn took 100 two-handed NBA threes, and they admitted that $20,000 was on the line, and Gilbert won in part by squirming on the ground in front of DeShawn while he was trying to shoot, remains the most entertaining practice I've ever watched.
"He kind of cheated me, everybody on the team said it," DeShawn later said. "He was in my face. I think he was kind of scared I was gonna win. But you know, that's Gil. Gil's going to try to find a way to try to win."
DeShawn later said he wasn't too upset with Gilbert.
"I could never get mad at Gil, man, that's my boy," he said. "You know, me and him are very competitive, so we're gonna go back at it."
6. Caron's MJ Moment
Caron hit plenty of big shots during his D.C. tenure, and this one against Indiana in February of 2009 meant nothing. The Wizards were bad before, and remained bad after.
But it was a moment anyhow. He had been sick for three days, getting IV bags, throwing up, the whole deal. But he played against Indiana, gradually turning a dead crowd into a roaring party as he scored 15 straight fourth-quarter points without missing a shot.
"I cried tonight," his wife, Andrea Butler, told me after that game. "It was like we were in the Finals. I don't know what happened, I got a little emotional. The whole fourth quarter was so good, I just got really emotional. I was just happy to see the crowd get back into it."
For his part, Caron said he needed teammates to drag him off the court, and that he tried to fake energy when he made eye contact with the coaches, so they wouldn't take him out of the game. "And that's what this city deserves," he said, of the win.
Such talk of the city was always part of the deal with Caron. Both he and his wife have said for years how much they love D.C., how much they love the fans and wanted to be part of this community. "I'll always view Washington as home," he told Mike Lee recently. "I'm a Washingtonian. We'll see what happens, but whatever happens, I'll always love the city."
5. DeShawn's '80s Party
One of the most ridiculous nights of my life. There were '80s amusements, from Rubik's Cubes to Atari consoles to a full-on Twister set-up. There were '80s treats, from Big League Chew to Pop Rocks to Appleheads to Pixy Stix to Capri Sun pouches to a Papa Smurf birthday cake flanked by a frosted Simon. There were appetizers that work in any decade (pigs in blankets), and DJ's from our youth (Biz Markie), and a special guest performance from Slick Rick. And there was a parade of athletes outfitted in authentic '80s garb. It was amazing, in every way.
4. Caron's Straws
Like, 12 straws a game. Like, 60 a day. To the point where he carries them around in his breast pocket, even when wearing a suit.
"I used to chew on, the little, you know how you pull the tag off your shoestring?" he once told me. "They said that would chip your tooth, so I just went to this one day. After that, it was easy."
TNT eventually did a Caron straw feature, but I'm pretty sure I owned that story from the start. In fact, the first time he mentioned his straws to me, he called it "a fetish." I offered him gum. "I can afford gum," he said. "I just like straws."
3. Brendan vs. Etan, With Humor
Shortly after his third fight with Etan Thomas, which ended with Thomas referring to him as "Brendan Todd Haywood," I asked Haywood what he thought about that nickname.
"As long as I'm 3-0, they can call me whatever they want," he said.
Wait, 3-0, I asked?
"I'm 3-0," he said. "I'm the undisputed heavyweight champion of the Washington Wizards."
By the next training camp, the beef had died down.
"Three fights, man, that's a lot for two guys huh?" Haywood said then. "That's exactly what I told somebody, Ali and Frazier only fought three times, that's got to be the end for me and Etan."
2. DeShawn Not Feeling His Face
There were too many ridiculous DeShawn Stevenson moments to recount from the 2008 season: making a bet over growing his beard, calling LeBron James overrated, wearing the Michael Vick jersey, getting called out by Jay-Z, inviting Soulja Boy to Verizon Center, and on and on.
But the real lasting memory was him waving that hand in front of his face, back when he used to make jumpers. I've written extensively on this, and who knows where he got it form, and whether he influenced other athletes or not. But it was fun, and it was memorable, and never was it more fun or more memorable than when he hit some big shots in Game 3 of that spring's playoffs and then waved his hand at LeBron.
1. Caron's Winner in Cleveland
"Call me clever, man, call me clever," he said. "That's just something that I always say. After we Won game 5 in Cleveland with the game winner [in 2008], I was like, 'D.C., stand up!' It's just one of those things. It's time. It's time for the momentum to change in our favor and for good things to start happening for us. So, D.C., stand up. We're gonna do it big for y'all this year."
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