Rasual Butler joins the sad list of NBA players who played for the Los Angeles Clippers and died prematurely, all before the age of 45. Late Wednesday morning, the Los Angeles coroner confirmed that Butler and his wife Leah LaBelle were killed in a “horrific” car crash in Studio City. Butler’s Range Rover barelled out of control at a high rate of speed, estimated to be three times the speed limit. The car jumped a curb and flipped twice after striking parking meters and a wall. Butler who was 38 and his wife, Leah LaBelle, who was 31, died at the scene.
The Clippers are familar with tragedy. Former Clipper Malik Sealy also died in a car crash. Sealey was leaving Kevin Garnett’s birthday party when he was a victim of a head on collison. He was also driving a Range Rover when he was hit by a Dodge pickup. Sealy was 28. He was one of four members of the Clippers 1996-97 team to die tragically. Kevin Duckworth, the center of that Bill Fitch coached team, died of a heart attack at the age of 44. Lorenzen Wright, the power forward of the team, was murdered in 2010. He was 34. Dwayne Schintzius, a rarely used center, died of leukemia at the age of 43.
In 2002, Bison Dele (Brian Williams) was presumed killed and thrown overboard into the Polynesian sea, along with his girlfriend and the boat’s captain, assumed to be killed by his brother for financial gain. Dele was 33 years old and played for the Clippers for one year 1995-96.
Rasual Butler was a South Philly guy who went to LaSalle and was a second round draft pick for the Miami Heat in 2002. Although he missed out on winning a ring in 2006, for three years he came off the bench for the Heat and even started 43 games. He wasn’t offensively talented but he was a tough defender. His best game with the Heat was his last regular season game in Miami: 25 points, 6 rebounds, making just about everything he put up, 78.6% and 75% from three. The next year he was in New Orleans with Chris Paul and David West. The Clippers was where he had the best season of his career in 2009-10. As a Clipper, he had a 31 point game against his old team Miami, in Miami no less, and a 39 point game, his career high, against Cleveland.
He played for Gregg Popovich and Pat Riley. He was on the Bulls 62 win team when Derrick Rose won the MVP. He was present for Chris Paul’s rookie year, Blake Griffin’s rookie year, and Dwyane Wade’s rookie year. He was a teammate of Paul George, DeMar DeRozan, John Wall, and Kahwi Leonard. Throughout his career he was referred to as a professional NBA player, not gifted in one particular area but someone you can count on to be ready in practice and in games. He was a basketball lifer. The one year he couldn’t acquire a NBA contract, 2012-13, he played for the D-League Tulsa 66ers. The sacrifice was worth it. The following year, he was back on a NBA roster playing 50 games, then 75 games and his last season, he was in San Antonio and he played 46 games.
In total, Rasual Butler played in 809 NBA games logging 17,219 minutes. He started 266 NBA games and over a 14 year career he scored 6,092 points and grabbed 1,934 rebounds.
Rasual Butler defied the numbers. The average NBA career is 4.8 years and he lasted in the league three times that long. He was a success given what his talent was. He was the kind of NBA player coaches hunger for: prepared, dedicated, committed. He retired like many NBA players retire, quietly and without much notice, wishing they were just a little bit younger.
His wife Leah LaBelle was a contestant on the American Idol season with Jennifer Hudson and Fantasia. She had a record deal with Epic Records.