Arcade Fire‘s Win Butler is more than an NBA fan: the indie rock frontman is a self-admitted basketball nerd and frequent pick-up player, hitting the court whenever his band is not commanding arenas or headlining festivals. When the Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game lineup was announced on Thursday morning (Feb. 5), Butler’s name appeared alongside celebs like Common, Kevin Hart and Ansel Elgort — and although the 34-year-old singer-songwriter has yet to play in the Celebrity Game, he’s a solid bet to walk away with the game’s MVP trophy.
“This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to [play],” Butler tells Billboard of the Celebrity Game, which will be held at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Feb. 13. Growing up in Houston before moving to Montreal in 2000, Butler started playing basketball in fourth grade, and played center in high school while growing into his hulking six-foot-four frame.
“I grew up watching a lot of Hakeem Olajuwon, who’s one of my all-time heroes,” says Butler. “I definitely have learned how to play the post, but then, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve added an outside game, three-point shooting. ‘Stretch four’ wasn’t so much of a position when I was a kid.”
Butler and his bandmates, including his younger brother Will Butler, still play a ton of pick-up basketball, and the frontman says that he’s “played in Eastern Europe, and Chicago and Spain.” In 2011, Butler began taking part in the Rock the Court charity basketball tournament in Toronto, participating with NBA players like Matt Bonner and Spencer Hawes.
Although Butler is not a diehard supporter of a particular team, he says that he’s been spending a lot of time in New Orleans and is a huge fan of Pelicans star Anthony Davis, who will be starting in the upcoming NBA All-Star Game. “I think Anthony Davis is the first player in maybe 10 years that has that… he’s not exactly Hakeem reincarnate, but he’s got an incredible combination of speed, quickness and power,” professes Butler. “I want to cheer for the Rockets, but I’m really a fan of the game. In our house, we were really into the Big Three-era Celtics, and that Suns team with Steve Nash we rooted for, for years. I’ve been watching a lot of Pelicans this year — that’s sort of my League Pass team, I watch every game I can.”
Once Butler starts discussing the finer points of the current NBA season, the Arcade Fire leader confirms that he really knows his stuff. “I honestly think that the Southwest Division is the toughest division in the history of the NBA,” he continues. “You have the Rockets, Mavericks, Spurs, Grizzlies, and Pelicans in the same division. It’s absurd. I even looked into whether there was ever a better division! I wouldn’t want to play any of those teams in the playoffs.” He even consoled this writer for rooting for the Philadelphia 76ers, one of the worst teams in the league. “You guys have a couple nice pieces, and it’s a long road,” Butler says cheerfully. “[Joel] Embiid is awesome. He’s gonna be great. You never know, there could be [another] Charles Barkley hiding somewhere.”
When asked who he thinks will win the championship in June, Butler sounds physically pained to make an early prediction. “It’s so hard to say,” he responds. “I think it’s gotta be a team from the West, barring injury. I wouldn’t want to play the Grizzlies — let’s put it that way.”
Has he ever discussed basketball with Drake, who was named the global ambassador of the Toronto Raptors and frequently attends his team’s home games? “A little bit,” Butler says. “We haven’t hung out much. I was trying to get him to play in my [Celebrity All-Star] game, but I think he’s been nursing injuries.”
Butler and the rest of the Celebrity All-Stars will tip off at 7:00 pm ET on ESPN next Friday, and Arcade Fire’s hotshot says that he isn’t too concerned with the outcome of the game, or his chances at the MVP award. “I’m not too worried about it,” says Butler. “I’m just excited to play.”