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The Globe and Mail

Win Butler and basketball: front man’s got game

Win Butler, center, is joined by fellow band members of Arcade Fire to accept the award for album of the year at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011, in Los Angeles.

MAtt Sayles/AP

It's well known that lanky Arcade Fire rocker Win Butler is a basketball fan – and a fearsome rec-league player – but who knew that the sport played a role in his band's Grammy-winning album The Suburbs? In the early stages of that conceptual record's development in 2009, Butler, a Houston native long based in Montreal, watched his hometown Rockets on television during their star-crossed run in playoffs. The experience triggered memories of his teenaged fandom of the franchise and helped reconnect his adult self to the psyche of his youth, which was a central theme to the acclaimed album. "It really took me back emotionally to exactly how I felt when I was 15," said Butler, who organized Saturday's so-called Pop vs. Jock charity hoop tilt as part of this weekend's Pop Montreal music festival.

As a teenager, the suburban-dwelling Butler idolized Hakeem Olajuwon, the sublimely mobile Nigerian big man who played both college and professional ball in Houston. "Watching him play was a very artistic kind of experience," he said by phone yesterday. "I related to him as a dancer. He moved completely differently."

Asked about his other favourite players, Butler named uniquely talented players – athletes eccentric in their individuality, size and flair, such as the poetic gunner (Pistol) Pete Maravich, the undersized rebounding demon Dennis Rodman, the freakishly versatile Magic Johnson and the small, pasty floor-general Steve Nash.

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Those players broke moulds and had rebellious streaks – non-conformist rock and rollers in their own way.

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