Alyssa Naimoli

Michael Rapaport sat down with former NBA All-Star Caron Butler to talk about his history in the game. The recent episode of I AM RAPAPORT included stories about some of basketball’s greats, from Kobe Bryant to Dirk Nowitzki and others, who shared the court during his career.

One of the standout greats that Butler had the opportunity to play alongside was Gilbert Arenas, who seemed to be top of mind, even if he’s not usually part of that conversation.

“Gilbert [Arenas] had a stretch of two years where he was the best guy in the game of basketball,” said Butler. “And I think that he was a man before his time, if you look at social media and everything like that.”

Butler said that Arenas “was one of those guys who was blogging and [all that] before it was even popular.” Arenas used his blogging to keep a connection with fans and Butler believes “his popularity was unbelievable.”

Any conversation of recent NBA greats has to include Kobe Bryant.

“A lot of people jump over the legacy of Kobe Bryant because of the social media and what you see now,” said Butler. “A lot of people start tuning into basketball relatively late. And they see the declining of Kobe and the injuries; they heard about the body of work or saw the big-time shots, and they start judging from that.”

Butler believes that many basketball fans missed Kobe’s prime and they compare late-career Kobe to other players in their prime.

“You see the rise and prime of LeBron James, who is great player,” said Butler.” “But make no mistake: Kobe Bryant is a five-time NBA Champion.”

Butler recalled facing Kobe while in Washington.

“[Bryant] coming back to Washington… he’s like ’48,’ and he’s counting backwards, and I’m asking: ‘what’s that about?” said Butler. “He’s counting back from 50, letting us know he’s gonna drop a 50-ball on us tonight. That’s the greatness of Kobe Bryant.”

Butler stated that Bryant is “just different,” and that it is evident because “you saw Kobe Bryant, at the end of his career, drop 60 points in his farewell game.”

Another player, and former teammate, who Butler believes changed the game is Dirk Nowitzki.

“A 7-footer with a jumper, he was the first of his kind; I think he changed the game,” said Butler. “[Dirk] is the reason you see a lot of stretch forwards, everyone says ‘Oh, I need a stretch forward,’ ‘a shooting forward’ or ‘I gotta play small.'”

Nowitzki “changed that whole dynamic at that position.”

“You can’t send a five-man at Dirk; a five-man is used to playing physical and on the body,” said Butler. “And now you’ve gotta run from the paint and all the way out there to guard the German Assassin.”

Behind Nowitzki’s revolutionary play was a level of dedication and determination rarely seen, even in the NBA.

Not only did Nowitzki “reserve a high school or college gym [in every city the team traveled to] so he would have a spot to get his shots up,” he “understands the game of basketball at a whole new level. And that’s what makes him one of the greats.”

“He took so much pride in [his job], and I respect him so much,” said Butler. “The superstar who never cared about being extra or being glorified in that way, it was just that he did what he had to do.”