January 27, 2016

Tough Juice

This past Saturday night I was supposed to be sitting in Section 109 at Verizon Center watching the Wizards take on the Utah Jazz for their annual meeting in the District. But winter storm Jonas had other ideas and forced the NBA to postpone that contest, only the second time I've seen a weather postponement in my 16 years as a season ticket holder. So last weekend instead of hoping the Wizards could finally find a way to win a couple in a row at home, I spent most of my time as a shut in from the snow just like most of the rest of the residents of Arlington, VA.

Other than the game cancellation, the weekend proved to be pretty enjoyable: pretty much nothing accomplished, some great company, a couple of movies, a Patriots loss, a Cavaliers loss, tons of Trader Joe's food and some hot chocolate (with a little dark rum). Sounds pretty perfect to me except for the lack of Wizards happenings. Luckily, I'd been hanging onto former Wizard Caron Butler's autobiography since Santa brought me a copy for Christmas for just such an occasion. So why not, right?

In case you are a Wizards novice, Butler (along with Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas) managed to guide the Wizards to the last three of four straight playoff appearances in the middle of the last decade. Unfortunately for Butler and the rest of our team (and me), they managed to lose to the hated Cleveland Cavaliers each of those seasons in the first round of the playoffs. Caron's four plus seasons in Washington represented the longest tenure with any one franchise and garnered him his only two All-Star selections. Caron is one of my favorite ex-Wizards and I always give him a one-man standing ovation along with one or two "TOOUUGGH JUUUUUICE"s whenever he returns to VC for another team. Caron's one of the classiest guys who has ever played for the Wizards.

Caron's autobiography is all about his escape from the mess he got himself into and almost couldn't get himself out of as a kid. I'm not going to cover all that here because I'm really here to write about the Wizards part of his book but suffice it to say he sold his first drugs at age 11, bought his first gun at 12, set up his first drug selling network at age 14 and was sentenced to his first jail term (of two years) at 15. Considering his environment, the guys he hung with and the fact that he was in numerous shootouts before he turned 17, it's a total miracle he's even still alive, let alone made it out of his hometown of Racine, Wisconsin to become the person he is today. It's an amazing story.

Caron's book is 224 pages long. Pages 202 through 209 cover his four and a half seasons with the Wizards. If you read this book, you should read the first 201 pages because it's worth it. But if you are like me, you really want to get to the Wizards stuff.

Caron focuses his very brief Wizards story on his arrival in Washington; his relationship with former owner Abe Pollin; and the lack of real results the team achieved in his time in D.C. But the juiciest bit of his story about being a Wizard is his recounting of the Gilbert Arenas - Javaris Crittenton feud that ultimately led to the 50 plus game suspension of Gilbert Arenas; the downward spiral of Crittenton that now has him sitting in jail for 20 plus years; and the blowup of a once promising team in Washington.

After reading the seven or so pages Caron devotes to his time as a Wizard, I'm confused. In addition to really learning nothing groundbreaking about Wizards history, I have an issue with one statement and questions about two other stories. I am not, by the way, too surprised I learned nothing new about the Wizards since I spend about 10 months of each year scheduling my life around this team. I'm pretty much embroiled in everything that happens to this team without actually being there for anything other than all the home games (in other words, I miss what happens behind closed doors).

But onto my two questions and one issue. My first question is about what really happened between Gilbert and Javaris Crittenton. Caron's account, which says the initial dispute was over $1,100 that Javaris alleged Gilbert owed him and ends with Gilbert and Javaris getting into it verbally a couple of days later is slightly different from what I wrote in this blog in 2012 which had the initial money argument about $200 between JaVale McGee and Earl Boykins and ends with Gilbert writing a "Pick 1" note for Javaris at Verizon Center. My version of the story was culled from various newspaper accounts written by people who quite definitively did not see the events unfold in person. Both versions end with Gilbert having a gun pointed at him before the situation calmed down a bit.

So the folks I relied on got some things wrong. No big deal, right? Maybe. But Gilbert Arenas doesn't agree with Caron's account either and he was most certainly there. We know this because Gilbert published at least two rants on Instagram (Gil's current soapbox of choice) disputing the accounts. Now, going on character alone, I'm likely to believe Caron but there's no question Gil's version is closer to the written accounts published before Caron's book came out. So what really happened? I guess we'll probably never really know and the truth is probably somewhere between the two stories but I think it's interesting it's taken this long for an alternate truth to be written down.

My issue, which I hope is not seen as nitpicking, is Caron's story of how he arrived in Washington. He writes "After one season with the Lakers, I took advantage of free agency to become a Wizard when they offered me a great deal." Now this doesn't exactly say Caron was a free agent with the ability to choose a new team, but it's pretty darn close. The truth is Caron was traded to the Wizards along with Chucky Atkins for Kwame Brown and had a year left on his rookie deal. His first season in Washington was spent on that rookie contract. He did sign a five year extension before he began that year, but he wasn't a free agent at that time. It's difficult to say the story is factually incorrect because there are facts missing. But it affects how I view the Arenas - Crittenton story.

My second question is about how Caron got his nickname, Tough Juice (or Tuff Juice depending on your preferred spelling). And this is really my only serious question. The story that has been laid out in the Washington Post at least twice is that Caron's teammates were complaining about how aggressive he was being in practice to which Caron responded "Man, you guys need to drink some tough juice." Eddie Jordan, the Wizards coach at the time picked up on this and started calling Caron by the nickname he carries around to this day.  Great story and one of the great all-time nicknames in sports.

Caron offers a different version. He claims Eddie Jordan used to call him a tough dude because of all the stuff he went through growing up. He then goes on to explain how Jordan eventually changed it to Tuff Juice after the expression "you got the juice now" that folks use to describe a player on a roll. While the two gunplay in the locker room stories play with shades of gray, the two Tuff Juice stories are totally different. I mean they are not even close. What gives??? I'm confused. Maybe one day Caron and Mike Wise (who wrote the story for the Post) can jointly clarify for me.

So that's my book report. A solid thumbs way up for a book about a solid guy and a great weekend's read. Still itching to know about the nickname story though. That one's going to stick with me.

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