In the 1963 film “The Great Escape,” it’s obvious how the Allied prisoners escaped from a German prisoner camp: they built an underground tunnel. In a Washington Post story of the same name, it’s not at all clear how as a teenager NBA All-Star Caron Butler escaped from his drug-infested neighborhood.
Butler’s explanation is theological. He believes that God turned around his life:
“The graveyards and prisons are full of people that wanted a second chance,” Butler said. “God put his hands on my life. He said ‘I’m going to touch you so that you can touch others.’ “
Later in the story, Butler explains the inspiration behind his transformation. While in juvenile prison, he read scripture:
Butler decided that he’d never be in that position again. He read Bible verses his grandmother, Margaret Butler, had sent him. Butler said he was drawn mostly to 1 Corinthians 13:11, which reads, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
One small window, sandwiched between steel bars, lit his room. Butler could peer out and see a basketball court.
“God puts stuff in front of you for a reason,” he said. “That was my ticket out.”
By contrast, Post reporter Michael Lee’s explanation is material. He believes that a cop caught Butler a lucky break. Police officer Michael Geller could have arrested Butler for “constructive possession” of drugs. Instead of putting him in the back of the police car, Geller let him go.
Geller’s decision saved Butler, or at least his basketball career.
A very pragmatic man, Geller said he prides himself on a meticulous approach to his job. He believes police work is much easier when you treat people correctly. “I’m not saying that Caron might not have been involved in something at that point, but in my gut, I was pretty confident the dope wasn’t his. I had done my homework.”
Geller’s supervisor told him that he had enough for an arrest, but left the final decision up to Geller.
“If this had been a situation where I knew going in that Caron was the guy selling the dope — that he was the responsible party — I’m not going to lie to you, he would’ve been escorted out of that house,” Geller said.
He decided to let Butler go.
“I thought it was the right thing to do — to see him go on the right path,” Geller said.
But Geller and his supervisor left Butler with a warning. “They told me, ‘If you get in trouble again, anything to do with narcotics again, you’re taking this case, too,’ ” Butler recalled. “I was like, ‘You don’t have to worry about that.’ ”
Like most of the Post‘s in-depth stories, Lee’s story was well reported and character driven.
But the contrast between Butler’s and Lee’s explanations is jarring. When I first read the story, I concluded that Geller had saved Butler’s career (and maybe his life). But after I read the story again and considered Butler’s explanation, I wasn’t so sure.
Lee’s failure to address this contradiction leaves careful readers in the lurch. At minimum, Lee should have squared his explanation with Butler’s. Does Butler view Geller as an instrument of God’s handiwork? Does Geller think he was just doing his job or seeking to do the Lord’s work?
Butler deserves his selection this year as an all star. Whenever he has made a big shot, Wizards fans or announcers will say, “The Butler did it!” After reading Lee’s story, I wonder how he did.