Lance Stephenson fondly remembers Rasual Butler

Old hat.

That was one of Rasual Butler’s nickname in the Pacers locker room. He was with the team for just one season (2013-14), a 34-year-old vet who had earned a spot via summer league and training camp, and ended up having a significant impact on every single person in the locker room.

Four years later, just one player remains from that roster: Lance Stephenson, who was on his second stint with the team.

Their lockers were in the same corner and Butler constantly looked out for Stephenson. After Stephenson answered questions for local media, often times Butler, who looked on intently, would then go over what was said and how to improve for next time.

News got out early Wednesday afternoon that Butler and his wife, Leah LaBelle, had died from a single-car accident at 2:25 am PT and it impacted the basketball community.

“Old hat” Sual with a cane.

“Man, I’ve been thinking about it all day,” Stephenson shared Wednesday after the Pacers defeated Memphis by four points. “He was definitely a great mentor. He kept me in check when I got too bad, he was that guy to calm me down especially during the games. Off the court he helped me a lot, how to be a vet and how to take care of yourself off the court. He was one of the main reasons I played so good that year, in 2014.

“It was a sad day, man. That was a really close teammate to me. When I heard the news I was heartbroken. We used to go out to dinner on all the road trips. It’s sad, man.”

On road trips, Stephenson and Butler would sit together. They would talk about life, relationships, and the various things Butler had experienced with his six previous teams, including one in the NBA’s Development League.

While Butler appeared in 50 games for a team that advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second consecutive season, his biggest impact was in the locker room. He was a leader of men, whose only intention was, with his warm smile, to have a positive impact on anyone he came across.

“He taught me how to take care of my money, he taught me how to invest,” said Stephenson. “He did a lot of stuff underground that nobody would know about. He was definitely one of those guys that mentored me and would have my back.”

Darren Collison never played alongside Butler, but the California native remembers their conversations.

“Really good guy. He always said positive things to me. That’s how I remember him. He was never negative, always was a hard worker and stayed in the gym. Always stayed in the game. That’s unfortunate, but I’m just glad we were able to go out there and try to show a little bit of effort for him. That’s the best thing we can do.”

Almost two hours before the game, head coach Nate McMillan still hadn’t processed exactly what happened. McMillan was in his first year with the Pacers, under Frank Vogel, when Butler wore No. 8 in Indy.

“Just shocking news to hear that,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “Painful. A good man, a good player. It’s just shocking.”

Stephenson brought up Sual, another one of his nicknames, in pregame chapel and said the group prayed about it.

VIDEO: Pacers hold moment of silence to remember Rasual Butler

Eight players from that 2013-14 Pacers team are still in the league, ten players went on social media Wednesday to offer their condolences and to remember those two.

One of my favorite memories of Butler, also known as Bop, extends beyond the court. It was a week before Christmas and George Hill wanted to distribute toys to kids at his neighborhood park off 34th Street.

Butler overheard and wanted to join in. So those two, after buying toys at a local store with their own money, handed out items from the back from Hill’s truck in the cold.

“I’m so lost for words right now!” shared Hill, a close friend of his: “This news has taken a huge blow out of me! Teammates come and go but friendships last forever. My years being his teammate were some of my best. Learning from how he carries himself on and off the court, the countless hours he would spend sharpening his craft, the love he displayed for his teammates and the little things in life!”

“Hurt about this one!” wrote Paul George. “I’ve read almost everyones post about Sul and all of them were spot on about who he was as a person. Truly one of the best human beings I’ve been around and an unbelievable vet! Gone miss you big bro!”

Solomon Hill, a rookie that season: “Lost an OG today, a true pro, a teacher, and competitor. who was not only a great mentor but also a great father.”

Rasual was consistently the first Pacer on the floor for pre-game warmups.

According to Stephenson, Butler was closest with David West, a fellow veteran who’s a year younger. West always made a point to emphasize that basketball is just a game, so they would have discussions about life and the greater good in the locker room.

“He was very close with David West. Very close,” Stephenson recalled. “He was always talking to me next to my locker and stuff, but he and D-West really clicked. They were going on dates, him and his wife, and they would go on trips together.”

Butler certainly is missed by the basketball community. Players across the league shared their thoughts on Twitter and Instagram, guys like Dywane Wade, Paul Pierce, and John Wall. He was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in the United States Wednesday afternoon.

Butler, a proud father to his daughter from a previous relationship, will be remembered as a kind soul, a positive influence, and a man who understood the greater purpose in life. In his last post, hours before the accident, he wrote “We are here to be Ourselves and No one else!”

(Worth a look: See Rasual Butler’s Instagram feed)

Rasul was a basketball player and he appreciated those experiences, but he valued relationships and having intelligent conversations most of all.

He never had to raise his voice, either, because everyone listened. And he will be missed.

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