Before the 2011 draft, one NBA general manager said about Butler, “His story is one of the most remarkable I’ve seen in all my years of basketball. There were so many times in his life where he was set up to fail. Every time, he overcame just enormous odds. When you talk to him—and he’s hesitant to talk about his life—you just have this feeling that this kid has greatness in him.”
Butler’s father abandoned the family when he was an infant. By the time he was 13 years old and living in the Houston suburb of Tomball, his mother kicked him out of the house. As Butler remembered it in a 2011 interview, she told him, “I don’t like the look of you. You gotta go.” He then bounced between the homes of various friends, staying for a few weeks at a time before moving to another house.
In a summer basketball league before his senior year at Tomball High School, he was noticed by Jordan Leslie, a freshman football and basketball player at the school, who challenged him to a three-point shooting contest. The two immediately became friends, and Butler began staying at Leslie’s house. Although his friend’s mother and stepfather, who had six other children between them, were reluctant at first, they took him in within a few months. Butler would later say, “They accepted me into their family. And it wasn’t because of basketball. She [Michelle Lambert, Leslie’s mother] was just very loving. She just did stuff like that. I couldn’t believe it.
As a junior at Tomball High, Butler averaged 10 points per game. As a senior and team captain in 2006–07, Butler averaged 19.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game and was subsequently voted his team’s most valuable player.
Butler was not heavily recruited coming out of high school and chose to attend Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas.