Win Butler gets fired up for hoops

On Saturday night , members of Grammy Award-winning band Arcade Fire will take part in a "POP vs. Jocks" charity basketball game at the McGill University Sports Centre in Montreal.

The event, which is part of the POP Montreal International Music Festival, will include Arcade Fire's Win Butler and Will Butler, San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner and musicians from Vampire Weekend. The event will benefit DJ Sports Club, a non-profit organization in Montreal that offers sports programs to kids between 7 and 17.

In anticipation of the event in the band's hometown, The Life spoke with Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler earlier this week about basketball, charity and the "Pop vs. Jocks" game.

The Life: Obviously you're a big sports fan. Is that a fair assumption?

Butler: I'm mostly a basketball man, but yeah.

The Life: Did you have a favorite team growing up?

Butler: I grew up in Houston, so when the Houston Rockets won the championships with Hakeem [Olajuwon] in like '93-94 and then '94-95, those were kind of like my heyday.

The Life: Have you always been a Hakeem Olajuwon fan, even going into today?

Butler: Definitely. I mean Hakeem is kind of like the guy I watched, I mean even before that [back-to-back titles], I'd always be listening to the games [on] headphones after I was supposed to be asleep and everything. But, yeah, with Hakeem, I've kind of come to appreciate later how lucky I was to get to see him play in his prime. It's kind of really a thing of beauty.

The Life: Do you follow basketball as religiously today as you did back then?

Butler: I really stopped following it for a long time. It's probably the year that Golden State beat the Mavs in the first round; that kind of big upset really piqued my interest in the NBA again and then my wife [Arcade Fire's Regine Chassagne] kind of got into Steve Nash and we followed those Celtics teams for those years. We kind of watched a lot of basketball in our house, starting in the mid 2000s.

The Life: If I were to ask you who your favorite player is, would it be Steve Nash currently or is there somebody else?

Butler: Oh, I don't know. I'm not really a favorites type of guy but definitely in our house my wife, Regine, loves watching Steve play and [Celtics guard Rajon] Rondo. I mean, just a lot of the teams who have great point guards, it's such a great time in the league for point guards right now.

The Life: Last week you were in Toronto, where you held a charity basketball event. How did that go?

Butler: It was pretty fun. Matt Bonner was doing a charity game and we did pretty good, we made it to the finals and then I challenged Bonner in the 3-point competition and I beat him. So then he was pretty pissed and so we played his team in the finals and he just actually played for five minutes and they were up like 20-2 and just destroyed us. But we did pretty good, because I was their draft pick and there were a lot of actual basketball players there so I thought that we played pretty good.

The Life: Now you have the event coming up this Saturday in Montreal. Are you excited for that one?

Butler: Yes. It's our first time trying to do a charity game in Montreal and the idea behind this one is to get some musicians and friends and to put together a team to play against another team that would be half Concordia and half McGill players. We're hoping that it'll be like a real game, but still for fun. Somewhat competitive.

The Life: Not that you would know this, but I'm actually of Haitian descent, so when I read up on you and realized that you had actually gone to Haiti after the earthquake last year and decided to help out and whatnot I was humbled and yet intrigued. Why did you decide to go to Haiti as opposed to any other place?

Butler: My wife is of Haitian descent and her parents moved to Canada from Haiti in the '60s. We've been to Haiti three or four times; we went probably a year before the earthquake and we were supposed to go to Haiti to film a music video; our tickets were booked and everything and then the earthquake happened. We were back about six months ago with the whole band and we played some shows in Port-Au-Prince and then in Cange, which is in the central plateau. Most of our work has been with an organization called Partners in Health. They were started by this guy called Paul Farmer who started a clinic in Haiti in the '80s and it's kind of grown into the health care system for the whole central plateau. It's a pretty incredible organization.

We plan on going back in February. We're there kind of a lot.

The Life: Do you plan on performing maybe for Mardi Gras?

Butler: I would love to go for Carnival, I've been wanting to go for years, like Jacmel (a city in Haiti) or something. We'll see.

The Life: Perfect. What should we expect this Saturday at the charity game?

Butler: I think the game at McGill will be pretty fun. There's going to be my wife who plays in Arcade Fire; she's going to be the organist for the game, kind of like the Lakers games, she can kind of play any song so that'll be pretty fun. Richard Parry from Arcade Fire is doing the halftime show, he'll be doing kind of like an installation piece.

The event is called Pop vs. Jocks. Matt Bonner who plays for the Spurs really likes a lot of rock bands and he always gets a lot of flack from the other players who mostly listen to hip hop; and a lot of musicians who are into sports are kind of embarrassed about it sometimes. So there's just this hilarious thing that kind of cuts both ways. I think part of the idea of the game, which is to have musicians and athletes on the same court and say it's OK to like sports and OK to like rock music.

Freelance writer J.M. Poulard is a contributor to the Warriors World blog on ESPN.com's TrueHoop Network.