Season Ticket: Jimmy Butler, the Miami Heat & Fresh First Impressions

He’s a toxic teammate. A terrible influence. A ticking time bomb.

Too demanding. Too selfish.

Too much me, not enough we.

That’s what we heard about Jimmy Butler, not from one spot, not from two spots, but from three.

Issues in Chicago. Trouble in Minnesota. Tension in Philadelphia.

A star, for sure, but not someone who could necessarily shine in a galaxy. Not someone you’d unequivocally trust on your side, especially when a squad started showing cracks. Not someone who would could lead as the primary piece, or support as the second, or sacrifice as the third. Not someone worthy of a maximum contract, certainly not of significant length, when he wasn’t capable of drawing out the maximum from those around him.

That’s what we heard.

From media. From executives. From coaches. And, yes, from players.

Now hear from his Miami Heat teammates about each’s initial meeting with the franchise’s new centerpiece.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression?

Here, finally at home, Jimmy Butler never needed one.

 

******

The Sidekick: Bam Adebayo

“His first impression was, he didn’t come in here with the ‘I’ mentality, or this is my team, or I’m gonna do it this way and nobody else can tell me (anything). He came in with open arms, he followed our culture, and he bought in. And now you are starting to see a different Jimmy. Jimmy isn’t the type of dude that wants to be the guy who other teams say he is. He says I’m the heart of this team but a lot of times we feed off of Jimmy’s energy. You know the Jimmy energy when you feel it. He’s just one of those guys, man, he’s all about winning.”

“I played against him a little bit, but we just knew each other because I knew D-Wade and he knew D-Wade. So it wasn’t like we had a first encounter then. But then we started playing pickup and we started building the connection, and you see it on the court. We developed the connection of basketball first and, once we got settled in, it kind of became more of a friendship and a brotherhood.”

“We are feeding off each other, we are finding each other. Coach Spo knows we are a great trigger together, and we are trying to really impose our will on teams with that.”

 

The Slovenian Soccer Pal: Goran Dragic

“I didn’t know him well. I knew that he was a great player. Usually when we played, sometimes he was guarding me, so I knew how tough he was. And then we just developed a chemistry. He’s a huge fan of soccer. Me too. So we bond with that. And then when we are on the floor, I try to look for him, I try to get him some easy baskets, and we got that chemistry. I don’t know how. But it’s fun. And I need to admit, he’s a really funny guy. I didn’t (think) he was so funny. But when you are around him most of the time, he’s a clown.”

“Man, where was the first time we met, bro….”

(Butler approaches in locker room)

“Was it training camp?”

“The first time we met?” Butler repeats. “All-Star weekend, motherfucker!”

“OK, but not then,” Dragic says. “This year, this year.”

“Uh, training camp,” Butler says.

“Yeah, training camp,” Dragic says. “He was working out at 3 a.m., I was sleeping.”

(Laughter)

“Come here, my brother, see you tomorrow,” Butler says, with a hug and kiss. “Thank you brother.”

“Yeah, he’s a great guy. And I don’t understand. You know, you hear a lot of rumors in this league, when he was in Minnesota. I mean, I like that he challenges guys. You know? I like the challenges. Sometimes the guys are too sensitive in this league, and if he tells you something, it’s not personal, it’s only because he wants for the best of the team. And he wants the same thing from you. And that’s something that I really appreciate about him.”

It is suggested to Dragic that Butler doesn’t like entitled players.

And that the Heat, with only two top-10 picks, fit a different profile than past Butler teams in the NBA.

Butler, after all, was drafted 30th.

“He understands. Nothing was given to us. I’m not saying that the first rounders, it was given. But we have a little bit different path to get here. You know, I remember when Jimmy came to the league. He was basically only a defender. And you can see how he developed. I’m happy for him. He’s a great NBA player, and I’m happy to have him here.”

Friends of Butler say he has tried to model his Heat behavior after that of Dragic, since Dragic is the second-most tenured player on the team behind Udonis Haslem.

“With this kind of caliber of player, each team he goes, he cannot fit wrong. Because he’s got the ability to adapt, to fit into different systems to play. And he’s such a smart player. For me, when I came here, of course, it was D-Wade, CB (Chris Bosh), those were the main guys. I just tried to fit in. Those guys helped me a lot too. I personally talk a lot to Jimmy. I try to ask him what he sees, tell him what I see, especially when we play together. A lot of action goes towards him, and he backcuts, I try to get him some easy layups, because the defense keys on him, so it’s really tough to get those shots.”

 

The Sage: Udonis Haslem 

 

“Everybody asks me this, about what happened with Jimmy in other places. I don’t know what you want me to say. You put him in the cage with a bunch of cats, he’s gonna growl. You put him in a kennel with a bunch of dogs, he’s gonna be right at home. That’s really all I got to say about that. I don’t know what people want me to say. I don’t understand what they’re asking, about where he was. He fit in right here perfectly.”

“I already met him through D-Wade. The only thing I was really curious about was the country music thing, but he sold me. I got a couple country music things that I’m into right now. And I bought in. And I’m vibing.”

 

The Sniper: Duncan Robinson

“I didn’t know him at all. We played against him last year. I think I might have checked into one of the games we played against him. My first interaction was in an open gym. He just raised the level right away with his competitiveness. He and I had a couple of interactions where we went back and forth. I think that maybe it wasn’t necessarily something he expected from me but, at the same time, there are a lot of competitive guys in this locker room. He enjoys that. Just kind of having that competitive spirit be returned. He’s been awesome. He’s raised the level of our practices, our workouts, our games, obviously, and just been a great presence in this locker room.”

“Yeah, I vividly remember the first time. He went under a handoff on me, and I shot it behind and made it, and said, ‘Don’t ever go under my handoffs.’ I reminded him of that. And I think he proceeded to post me up on the other end. We just went back and forth. Just kind of normal jargon.”

“He definitely fits what this organization is about, and I think that’s why he was drawn here. He’s been awesome with me, and just pushing me, and really being in my ear. He’s been a tough critic on me, but I welcome that. And I think it’s made me a better player. He’s a great dude, man, he really is. I’ll (even) tolerate the (country music) more than other guys. I don’t really actively choose to listen to country music. But I don’t get annoyed with it like the other guys in this locker room. I’m kind of used to it.”

 

The Surprise Starter: Kendrick Nunn

“First meeting with Jimmy was probably in the locker room. He came in the locker room over the summertime. Right before training camp. He’s just a good guy. I’d seen him put in a bunch of work, so that was my first impression of him. I was just seeing how hard he worked. And the work he put in. I knew what type of guy he was up front. I knew we would have a connection because I’m the same type of guy.”

“He does appreciate (guys who didn’t have it easy). Of course I had to show him, because he probably didn’t know much about me. But just him watching me work and how I go about things, I think he appreciates that. He tells me too. He congratulates me on little things and he embraces it for sure.”

When does Nunn think Butler noticed him?

“Probably the preseason, when I had the 40 (against Houston). I mean, I caught a lot of guys with that. It was a different feel. He trusted me more on the court.”

Now they are starting together: what does Butler want?

“Just being accountable. It’s a collective effort on the court, where sometime during the game, where you need to hold your own. Whether that’s mano a mano of you guarding someone, holding your own. I showed I can do that, and he likes that, he embraces that. He tells me to continue to go about things how I am, continue to grind, work hard with my head down, and good things will come.”

Can he correct Butler now?

“Yeah. I’ve built that relationship with him. We’ve been starting the entire season together. So we have definitely been building communication. Our chemistry is building more and more every day. Spacing is one. Because I know guys normally stay attached to him. And he screens a lot and gets other guys open. So that’s what he usually tells me, when I try to go screen for him, he tells me to space out and then he’ll come screen for me and maybe he’ll draw two and leave me open. It’s been good.”

 

The Soarer: Derrick Jones, Jr.

“Me and Jimmy, when we met, we both let each other know our passion for the game, our love for the game, and our love to compete. First time actually meeting and talking, we were playing pickup. We got to see how each other work. We were on the same team the whole time. We got to see how each other played. And I loved it. I mean, people say this and that about Jimmy but, to me, he’s the ultimate competitor. He just wants to win, man. At the end of the day, that’s why I’m here.”

“It was just with us, in Miami. I mean, I knew of him before that, had conversations on the floor playing against each other, but actually being on the same floor, on the same team, it was different. I loved it. We got to feel out each other’s game. Like right now, I feel like when me and Jimmy are on the floor together, I told him, I’m gonna be man on ball, and you just go ahead and roam. Just do what you do. You’re a great on-ball defender but I feel like Jimmy’s best attribute is as an off-ball defender. Just let me guard the man, and you do what you got to do to get your steals.”

“Everybody in our locker room, we have a legendary work ethic. And I feel like we all gonna click regardless. We love to play the game, we love to win, we got ultimate competitors in here. When Jimmy first got to this team, like I say, I started watching all his highlights on YouTube and everything. I was just picking up on where he left off of. I see little places where I can help myself with him. Just put myself out there where I’m vulnerable to anything. I’m never the type to be mad about him criticizing my defense or anything. Whatever he got to tell me, I know it’s always gonna be good and it’s always from the heart. And we want to win, so whatever he got to say, I told him I’m all ears.”

“That’s our guy. That’s the culture here. We love it here, we love each other. They’re like my brothers. I’m never gonna let my brother go out there by himself. Whenever he got something to say, I got something to say right with him.

 

The Staunch Supporter: Meyers Leonard 

 

“Jimmy and I, shoot, we went to three meals in like a 16 hour span in Toronto. My wife’s like, ‘Dang, you’re spending a lot of time with Jimmy.’ I’m like, ‘I want to get to know the guy.’ And he invited me to dinner. I went and then, all of a sudden, the next day, we’re having lunch and dinner again. He gets it. And it does start from the top, which is Spo and his staff. And then a guy like Jimmy, you bring a guy like that in, that you wonder well, people have said, ‘Well, Jimmy Butler’s an asshole.’ No, no. Jimmy Butler’s not an asshole. I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again. Jimmy Butler simply loves to compete, he’s competitive as hell. Wants guys to want to win, wants guys to want to work hard. And I don’t see any issue with it. We’re making millions of dollars to play basketball. That should be a pretty simple task.”

It seems like he doesn’t stomach entitlement from others, anywhere.

“Uh huh. Uh huh. I got to give you a couple stories, I just have to. I was telling (wife) Elle that I need to find a way to get to know Tyler (Herro), I’ve just got to find a way to do it. I had caught wind during one day of an offseason workout that Tyler was gonna be in early the next morning. So I said to Tyler, ‘Hey, what time are you showing up in the morning?’ He said, ‘I think we’re gonna be in at 6:30.’ I said, OK, perfect, I’ll be there. And I told Elle it’s because I wanted to get to know him, and I wanted him to start to trust me, and show him that he can come to me with any problems, any questions, anything. I mean, I’ve been around the league. And so I show up, and in a full sweat on the other end is Jimmy Butler. And I’m thinking to myself, ‘What in the hell? I didn’t know this guy was in town.’ But I respected that so much. So anyways, we get the work out done and Jimmy says, ‘Hey, big fella, good to see you man, I see you are working hard, this is gonna be a fun season.’ And now fast forward a couple weeks, now we’re in training camp, I catch wind that Jimmy now is gonna be working out at 3:30, or 3 a.m.  it was. And I was like, no way in hell I’m gonna let our leader be there by himself. I’m just not gonna do it. This has nothing to do with publicity. The only thing it has to do with, I’m gonna show Jimmy, if he’s gonna put this amount of work in, I’m gonna be right there next to him, by his side. Sure enough, we work out, it was great. It was just simply that I wanted to show him, I guess, my willingness to work hard and be right there alongside of him.

“And then the last piece was slowly but surely, Jimmy knows I care about winning, I play my role, I’m a locker room guy, I communicate, I do all those things. But I wanted to get to know him better. So again, we spent a pretty decent amount of time together, just talking about life, talking about basketball, on and on and on. Jimmy’s great, man. He really really is. And anybody who has been around him, in the right environment, would know that about Jimmy.”

 

The Savant: Tyler Herro

“I met Jimmy at his house in Chicago over the summer, when I went to work out with him. My first impression? I don’t know. I liked him. I liked the guy, I don’t know. Obviously, he took me under his wing. He’s like a big brother to me. He teaches me a lot on the court, even off the court I learned a lot from him. I don’t know what the assumption was, that he was a bad teammate or this, that or the third. But he’s been great for us and our locker room. Obviously, he’s our best player. And he’s a big reason why we are second or third in the East right now.”

“I hit him up, just know I’m the new rookie on the team. I don’t know if you’ve heard about me. I pretty much just texted him. I got his number through somebody and hit him up, let him know. And he was like, ‘If you want, you can come to Chicago and work out with me for a week. I was like, ‘Yeah. I’m with it.’ Yeah, yeah. We worked out for a couple days. We flew to Miami for a day, because he was buying a house. So I went with him to buy his house in Miami, and then we flew back that same night after a soccer game. I think Neymar was playing where the Dolphins play. And then we headed back to Chicago for a couple days and that was it.”

Why the quick connection?

“First, I respect him in a big way, everything that he’s done. I like guys who are going to impact a locker room, like this one, in a good way. He pushes everyone. When I first met him, I knew he was my type of guy when we were getting up at 5 in the morning going to work out. That’s the same stuff I do. I think once he sees that I was 19, and I was working like him, I think he respected me.”

“Probably the first time he came to Miami, for good, right before training camp, it was probably like September 20th I’d say. And we had an open gym run, 5-on-5, and I was guarding Jimmy and he was guarding me. It wasn’t like we were talking back at each other, it was just some competitive trash talk. I think that was another point where I think he respected me, I could talk to him like a grown man. Obviously I gained his respect. I’m continuing to build his trust.”

“Uno. We play a lot of Uno. He’s beaten me at that too. We played medicine beach ball. He’s beaten me at that. The only thing I’ve beaten him at so far is dressing.”

 

Jimmy Butler: The Star

Why is he so happy here?

 

*******

Photos by John Kozan (@BrassJazz) other than Haslem photo by Ethan J. Skolnick. Jimmy Butler was offered for an interview for this story. We ultimately decided that his teammates said it best. Season Ticket is sponsored by Sirvanti Men’s Custom Clothiers in South Miami. Call Blanca at (305) 310-2085 for a consultation. 

4 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *