OAKLAND (CBS SF) — When Golden State Warriors backup forward David West takes the court Thursday night, it will be with a heavy heart.
Former NBA forward Rasual Butler and his wife, Leah LaBelle Vladowski, were killed in a single-vehicle rollover crash in Los Angeles early Wednesday. West and Butler were former teammates, but more importantly very close friends.
“He was one of my closest friends,” West told reporters at the team’s morning shootaround. “We played four years together in New Orleans and a year in San Antonio and a year in Indy. We were really tight. It’s a tough tragic loss. He and his wife were good people. It’s just life.”
When West won his first NBA title last season as a member of Warriors, the first person he invited to take part in the victory parade with him was Butler and his wife.
“We celebrated last year winning the championship, he and Leah were on float with me,” West said. “It’s a tough moment for me.”
Butler often kept West focused on the job at hand, particularly during the Warriors playoff run last season.
“He was like a sage in my ear,” West said. “He kept up with me … He was in my ear the whole finals. He just wanted to be a part of it. I wanted him to be a part of it. He came up (to the Bay Area from Los Angeles) and we had a good time.”
Los Angeles police said in a statement that Butler was speeding before his vehicle jumped a curb, hit three parking meters and a concrete wall and then flipped over twice. The vehicle came to rest inside a shopping mall parking lot.
Butler and LaBelle Vladowski were pronounced dead at the scene, said Ed Winter, assistant chief investigator with the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. Autopsies were pending.
Butler was drafted in 2002 by the Miami Heat out of LaSalle University in his hometown of Philadelphia. He played for eight NBA teams during his 13-year career, including the Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs.
He had career averages of 7.5 points and 2.4 rebounds.
Butler’s death sent shockwaves through the NBA.
“This is beyond a sad day for the Miami Heat Family,” team President Pat Riley said in a statement. “Rasual was one of the greatest people we have ever had play for us; a great player, teammate and better person.”
Indiana Pacers President Kevin Pritchard expressed a similar sentiment.
“In his one season with us, Rasual was the consummate team player and a great role model for our younger players on how a professional should prepare and act, while being a positive influence on everyone who associated with him,” he said.
The Clippers said Butler “will long be remembered not only for his accomplishments on the court, but for his vibrant personality, positive outlook and the compassion he had for everyone around him.”
He had two stints with the Clippers, in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
Minnesota guard and former Clipper Jamal Crawford tweeted, “Damn this one hurts! RIP Rasual Butler & his wife Leah. Sounds so cliche, but Rasual was really one of the good ones!!”
Butler last signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves in late 2016 and was waived that October.
Butler’s wife earned a measure of celebrity as an R&B singer. She placed 12th in the third Season of “American Idol” in 2004.