Rasual Butler, 38, a former Philadelphia high school player of the year at Roman Catholic who became one of La Salle’s leading scorers before moving on to a 13-year career in the NBA, was killed early Wednesday, along with his wife, in a one-car accident in Studio City, Calif.
According to the Los Angeles Police Department, Mr. Butler lost control of his Range Rover and hit a parking meter and a wall in the 11200 block of Ventura Boulevard around 2:25 a.m. He and his wife, former American Idol finalist Leah LaBelle, 31, were pronounced dead at the scene.
The death of Mr. Butler, who played his final NBA season two years ago with the San Antonio Spurs, sent shock waves through the local and national basketball world.
His loss was felt deeply at La Salle, where he ranks fourth on the all-time career scoring list with 2,125 points and averaged 19.3 points per game while playing from 1998 through 2002. He was a two-time all-Big Five player and was inducted into the La Salle Hall of Athletics in 2008.
“This is a real tragedy to the La Salle community and to all who knew Rasual,” La Salle director of athletics Bill Bradshaw said in a statement. “He was a terrific basketball player, a great teammate, and a wonderful person. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the friends and families of Rasual and his wife, Leah.”
Former La Salle head coach Speedy Morris, who recruited Mr. Butler to the Explorers and coached him for three seasons, called him “a really good kid who got along with everybody.”
“He was a great player, and I was very fortunate to get him,” said Morris, who now is head coach at St. Joseph’s Prep. “A lot of schools were after him. Primarily he could shoot the ball, but then he got better on defense, got better at passing the ball, got better at playing with his teammates. He was a well-liked kid.
“I was just shocked when I heard about this. He was too young.”
Mr. Butler, who had deep shooting range, was named the 1997-98 Philadelphia high school player of the year after averaging 27 points and eight rebounds in his senior season at Roman Catholic. He did not make the necessary SAT score to play basketball at La Salle until after he graduated, so he began his Explorers career in the second semester of his freshman year.
“Upon hearing the news of the tragic loss of Rasual Butler and his wife, Leah LaBelle, the Roman Catholic High School community expresses its deepest sympathy and prayerful support,” the school said in a statement. “Rasual was a member of the Class of 1998. As a student and an athlete, Rasual distinguished himself for his dedication, passion and commitment. During Rasual’s 14 years in the NBA, he never forgot his connection to Roman Catholic. It is with a great sense of loss that we express our sincere and heartfelt condolences to the members of his family, friends and teammates.”
Bobby Jordan, the director of athletics and head boys’ basketball coach at Girard College High, played guard at Roman Catholic (class of 2005) and Drexel.
“Rasual always stayed close to the Roman program and, like a lot of other former players, would come back to see Coach [Dennis] Seddon and the guys on the team,” he said.
Seddon said Mr. Butler gave him “my most prized possession.”
“When he made the [NBA], he gave me an autographed picture that said, ‘Thanks for being my rock,’ ” he said. “I’ve never told anybody that. I’ll never forget that.”
After averaging 14.2 points in his freshman year at La Salle, Mr. Butler, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard and small forward, improved to 18.4 points in his sophomore season and 22.1 points as a junior before scoring at a 20.9-point rate as a senior.
He was named first-team all-Big Five in 2001 and 2002. His 670 points as a senior were 11th all-time at the school, and his 44-point performance in a 2002 game against Rhode Island was tied for sixth-most in program history.
Mr. Butler was drafted in the second round of the 2002 NBA draft by the Miami Heat, the 53rd player taken overall. He played three seasons with the Heat before moving on to New Orleans, where he spent four seasons.
Mr. Butler also played for the Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, and Washington Wizards, and wrapped up his career with San Antonio for one season. He played in all 82 games in back-to-back seasons, averaging 11.2 points for New Orleans in 2008-09, and a career-best 11.9 points for the Clippers in 2009-10.
For his NBA career, he averaged 7.5 points in 809 games.
In 1997-98, his senior season at Roman, Mr. Butler led Roman to the semifinals of the Catholic League playoffs. Despite his 18 points and 12 rebounds, the Cahillites were ousted by Father Judge, 57-48, at the Palestra.
“When he caught the ball, we always ran a second guy after him,” said former longtime Judge coach Bill Fox. “We made their other guys try to beat us.”
Judge, which won its first Catholic League title since 1977 that year, and Roman both went on to play in the prestigious Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament at Frostburg (Md.) State University.
Mr. Butler netted 26 points in a semifinal loss to DeMatha Catholic (Md.), which was coached by the legendary Morgan Wootten.
“He played great at Alhambra,” Fox said. “I remember Morgan Wooten commenting on Rasual’s scoring ability and talents.”
Mr. Butler received the William Markward Award, given to the Philadelphia area’s top player, in 1998. He totaled more than 1,200 points in his high school career.
Archbishop Wood athletic director Joe Sette was Wood’s head coach during the years Mr. Butler shined at Roman.
“What a great, great high-school player he was,” Sette said. “And then he went on to do well at La Salle University and have a long NBA career.”
Lynard Stewart, a contemporary of Mr. Butler, starred at Gratz in 1994-95 and later at Temple. He now coaches Gratz’s basketball team.
“In basketball back then, we had a large community that everybody was a part of, so we played against each other or worked out together with John Hardnett,” Stewart said. “Rasual was one of those kids that was well-mannered, soft-spoken, and just worked hard. He always had dreams of making the NBA. And he did all the right things. That’s why he stayed in the league so long.
“I couldn’t believe it, 38 years old. And his wife. Life is short. Appreciate your friends. Appreciate your family because you never know what can happen in life.”
Mr. Butler posted on Instagram just hours before the crash. The post has since been flooded with “RIP” messages.
By Wednesday afternoon, an outpouring of condolences and support for Mr. Butler and his wife’s family and friends were shared on Twitter.
We are deeply saddened by the passing of Rasual Butler and his wife, Leah LaBelle. Our sincere condolences, thoughts and prayers go out to the family and many friends of Rasual and Leah. They will be missed. pic.twitter.com/djezmpHd5h
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) January 31, 2018
Rest In Peace my brother 🙏🏾#RasualButler
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 31, 2018
Come on man. Damn. The world just lost a great dude. RIP Rasual “Bop” Butler! https://t.co/tufRq2H3AI
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) January 31, 2018
Our entire organization is deeply saddened after learning of the death of former Pacers player Rasual Butler and his wife, Leah LaBelle. pic.twitter.com/ezdVkM12PG
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) January 31, 2018
You gotta be kidding me right now….
This is a sad day man!!! R.i.p sual bop!!
True legend in my eyes !!! Damn I’m really hurt right now… damn man!!
— Kyle Lowry (@Klow7) January 31, 2018
Rip to the homie Rasual Butler & his wife!! Condolences to the butler family & friends. Damn Bro 🙏🏽😪
— Matt Barnes (@Matt_Barnes22) January 31, 2018
Omg….. RIP Rasual Butler :(( terrible News 😢
— Marcin Gortat🇵🇱 (@MGortat) January 31, 2018
Staff writers Andrew Albert, Rick O’Brien and Aaron Carter contributed to this article.