Da’Sean Butler was rooting for Miami in the NBA Finals.
How could he not?
It was the Heat who drafted his one good leg out of college, the Heat that gave the former West Virginia miracle worker a chance when no one else did.
“I was the first player ever drafted with a torn ACL,” he pointed out as he stood behind the basket at the west end of the Coliseum Court, having returned for Bob Huggins’ Fantasy Camp, a place where adults live out their basketball dreams.
You might even bet that the Heat wound up paying a price for having let Butler go early in the year when it faced a roster problem as he was still rehabbing, for it became obvious during the Finals they needed someone to turn to when their backs were against the wall.
Anyone remember how Butler reacted to those situations in his final year at WVU, right up to the moment when the knee gave out as he drove the baseline against Duke in the national semifinal, trying to pull off one final miracle in his career?
There was another reason other than the gamble Miami took on him by adding him to the “Nightmare Team” and this because he now is a member of the of the cross-Texas San Antonio Spurs, his knee healed.
At Fantasy Camp this weekend he was chipper and spry, at ease as he always is, ready to flash that 1,000-watt smile of his. He understood that his fantasy already had come true as he was ready and eager for this NBA season to end and the next to begin.
There was, below the shorts he was wearing on warm June afternoon, evidence of what he had been through, a long scar on the knee, the kind they used to call a zipper.
In this day and age of arthroscopic surgery where the reminder is only a tiny scar where a whole had been, you could see that they had laid open the inner workings of the knee and, like Humpty Dumpty, put Da’Sean Butler back together again.
That is why it took a year to get back, a year of hard, hard work.
He recalls how difficult it was in training camp, Miami putting together the team that was supposed to cruise through the regular season while he worked on the side, in the weight room, sweating maybe more than his teammates but without ever making a pass, shooting a shot or blocking a shot.
He was learning about how most of us feel, unable to so much as touch the rim, let along dunk a basketball.
He thought back to camp, to the high expectations of the Heat and that newly constructed team, like his newly constructed knee, took time to come together.
“They took a lot of criticism,” he said.
It gave him a different view of what life was like. These guys may have been professionals, far too highly paid, and in the public eye, but even the likes of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh felt some of the criticism.
“Some of it they laughed at,” Butler said, “but certain things were upsetting.”
By the time the race had heated up, Butler had been released and was rehabbing, enjoying himself at West Virginia games, trying to put everything in its place as his was spinning.
Butler admits his life was different, that the world he was attending on this day back on the WVU campus wasn’t the same world he will have to operate within during the rest of his days.
“Just being a professional makes it different,” he said. “It’s a business.”
In the pros, it is less personal. They treat you well, want you to succeed, but the player has to understand that will last as long as he can perform and contribute more than the next guy.
It’s a big step, moving from college to professional basketball.
“It’s a different adjustment, more than moving from high school to college,” he said. “It’s like growing up.”
You have teammates and friends, with an NBA star it’s called an entourage and it includes both friends and flunkies, some who will be with you through thick and thin, others who are looking elsewhere the first time you miss back-to-back jump shots.
Butler, of course, would just like the chance to take back-to-back jump shots. The knee is healed.
Now he has to heal his game.
“I can’t wait,” he said of training camp. “I’m working hard on my strength, on my game. It’s all going to get better but I can’t rush it.”
There could be some bitterness, being robbed of a big contract, which surely would have come if he had been able to get through the final eight minutes of his senior season, and being robbed of a year of his basketball life, but that would not be the Da’Sean Butler we all came to know and love.
“I think of everything as a blessing,” he said. “It gave me time to work on things, to adjust.”
Makes you believe the Butler is going to do it.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Da’Sean Butler was rooting for Miami in the NBA Finals.
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