If Lamont can leave, anyone can

For 31 minutes and 42 seconds, the FAU Owls had a lead over the Aztecs. But, they did not finish with the lead due to Lamont Butler's buzzer beater. He made history and the Aztecs are still dancing. (Don De Mars /EVT)

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Lamont Butler with his parents at one of his many NIL events. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

When athletes reach a certain stature, they are known by one name. Jordan, Kawhi, and Messi are a few examples. Around America’s Finest City, former SDSU star Lamont Butler was affectionately known as “Lamont.”

Joining the likes of Junior or Tony in the single moniker club due to his buzzer-beating shot to send SDSU to a National Championship, Lamont’s legacy seemed sealed when he spurred hundreds of thousands of dollars elsewhere to stay with the Aztecs in 2023.

A year later, with one last chance to elevate his prospects in the eyes of NBA evaluators, Butler headed for bluer pastures at the University of Kentucky. His transfer means the Wildcats got better at the Aztecs’ expense, but its significance is much greater.

It shows that if Lamont can leave SDSU, anyone can.

There is a double-movement afoot in college athletics. While universities are scrambling to convince their fans to donate money to NIL collectives, they are also working to put systems in place to make potential transfers think twice about leaving.

Relationships and development are the chief aspects of this method. If an athlete is growing his game in an ideal situation, it may give him pause when another school illegally contacts him with promises of NIL riches.

The scary aspect of Butler’s decision for Aztec Nation is it’s hard to imagine SDSU creating a more enticing environment than what Butler had in San Diego. Time may allow his legacy to recover, but the last memory is usually the most consequential.

Unfair as it is, Butler will be judged for breaking the hearts of fans from Imperial Beach to Oceanside even though he made a decision most would have chosen in his position.

For many, he created a wound that will be reopened if he walks across the NBA draft stage to the sound of “Lamont Butler from Kentucky” or when the Wildcats, not the Aztecs, are mentioned as his university during NBA broadcasts.

The unfortunate part about this saga is it didn’t have to be this way. Butler could have taken his place in the pantheon of beloved San Diego sports stars with more support from the community. Last year, Butler tried to capitalize on his legacy and historic shot. He hustled selling t-shirts, Mexican food, and even smoothies.

It ultimately wasn’t enough. SDSU lost to a more competitive fan base.

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Lamont Butler hugs Brian Dutcher as he checks out for the last time. (Deanna Goldberg/EVT)


The silver lining to Butler’s departure is many Aztec fans are waking up to the realization of what their program is up against. Each decision to transfer is unique and there is a possibility others will make a different choice down the road.

The Eagles drafted Toledo’s Quinyon Mitchell in the first round of the recent NFL draft. On ESPN’s broadcast, former Alabama head coach Nick Saban admitted to trying to lure Mitchell into the portal. Mitchell refused and will be rewarded with an NFL paycheck.

The collectives that fund NIL have filled their coffers in two ways. Either big money donors or corporations fund the entire enterprise, or the fan base rallies together and provide the funds. Short of alumni with deep pockets coming in, thousands of smaller donations are what Aztec Link and the Mesa Foundation need to generate.

If 1,000 season ticket holders donated $200 a month, SDSU would have more than $2 million annually to work with. That sum may not put the Aztecs among the sport’s elite, but it might have been enough to keep Butler at SDSU for his final season.

The Mesa Foundation, SDSU Basketball’s NIL Collective, is currently having a MESAMatch promotion. Up to $300,000 in donations will be matched through May 15. Perhaps, signaling why Butler had to seek greater wealth elsewhere, with a little over two weeks left in the campaign, a little under a third of the goal has been raised.

NIL has changed a lot since its genesis, and more evolution is on the horizon. It is even possible that NIL collectives go away altogether in favor of revenue sharing.

Until then, Aztec Nation has to face the new reality.

If Lamont can leave, anyone can.

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