Jimmy Butler arrived to meet the media Friday in New Orleans for NBA All-Star weekend wrapped in symbolism.
He was wearing a Stella McCartney shirt—you’d think, by the way, you’d at least get a Beatles record with it for what those things cost—of red and blue stripes with a swath of mustard. For the hot dog? Nah.
“No, still that kid from Tomball, Texas,” said Butler as he jumped the first required NBA hurdle toward Sunday’s All-Star game. “I’m probably a little bit better at basketball than I was then; probably a lot better, actually, try to. I’m still me. Some people don’t like it, some people don’t think so, oh well. I live in a bigger house, drive a different car, wear shirts from Stella McCartney.”
There also was a large king of clubs layered into the fabric. Jimmy’s not quite the King, for LeBron still reigns in the NBA. But yes, Butler is getting himself in the line of succession and kind of the king of his club, the Bulls lone All-Star. And someone who truly belongs among the NBA’s elite. Butler will be at his third consecutive All-Star game, is starting for an East team with only two starters having been in more All-Star games and Kyrie Irving just one more. Plus, with the All-Star start and an Olympic gold medal last summer, Butler has moved into rarified Air in franchise history among the likes of only Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
They don’t make it an official title; you don’t get a business card that says Star, though LeBron may have one. When Jimmy arrived this weekend, ESPN had him featured on the cover of their magazine with musician Chance the Rapper. He immediately went on the ESPN First Take show. Jimmy’s a star.
“Everybody here is an All Star,” said Butler. “Everyone here is extremely talented, at the top of their class, one of the best players in the league. So starting, off the bench, it’s an honor to be here. I’ve got two (All-Star games) underneath my belt now. I definitely know the feeling of being the first time; it’s surreal: ‘Maybe I do belong here.’ That’s what I was thinking. Now it’s how to get here every year; that’s the fun part. That’s the next challenge, how you continue to play at a very high level and maintain that year in and year out. A lot of guys have done it 10 plus years and I hope I become one of them.”
Yes, Butler has somewhat officially made it, Olympic teammates with the best, one of the 10 starters with the voting now also by the players, perhaps even an MVP contender. The players often try to tilt the award to a home town player, which would be Anthony Davis for the West.
The talking point for the game has been the much overblown feud between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Will West coach Steve Kerr have them in the lineup together? Will Russ trip him on a fast break?
There’s not much game to discuss anymore for All-star games, the competition even further deteriorating last year into even less defense and more all oop dunks right even through the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.
Butler hasn’t played much in his two previous All-Star appearances, sitting out last year and a team low nine minutes in his first game in 2015.
"I'm always nicked up right before," he said. "I want to play. Damn, this is what all the hard work, all that playing in the first part of the season; this is how you get rewarded. I want to compete against the best even though it's a different type of game than a normal NBA game. I’ve watched and played in it a little bit. I know the gist. Don't go out there trying to guard people 94 feet.
“I can score a couple of baskets, too; don’t count me out.”
Watch out, MVP?
This time he’s ready even with the 40 minutes in Thursday’s win over the Boston Celtics. Which given the proximity, some 14 hours before Butler was with reporters in New Orleans, the questions came fast Friday about that last play and foul, Butler’s two free throws winning the game. The NBA’s report on the last two minutes of contested games confirmed the foul call was correct for Marcus Smart’s touch of Butler’s elbow.
“A foul is a foul,” Butler reiterated. “Everyone keeps asking me if he fouled me or not, the call. I hit you on the elbow when you are shooting a jump shot and you miss, it’s a foul. You can’t knock that it was a foul. Was it a ticky tack foul, yes, I would have made it, I believe, if he didn’t hit me.
“I don’t get superstar calls,” corrected Butler. “When I get a foul, it’s a foul.”
But he does get to the free throw line a lot, which is less the falsity of bias for stars than the fact that stars take the initiative. Like Butler does.
Butler ran the gamut in 30 minutes with media Friday of the sublime and mundane, heavy on the mundane.
There was a hello to Japan, a Brazilian inquiry on Cristiano Felicio, whom Butler celebrated, though admitted he still wasn’t sure how to pronounce his name. There was the little kid doing ESPN interviews asking about Jimmy’s pregame snack, which he said was chicken and rice. That’s a snack? No wonder he ripples.
Butler had praised Kyrie Irving earlier in the day on the ESPN TV show as the kind of teammate—no offense to current guys—he’d like. Butler similarly mentioned DeAndre Jordan as the dunk favorite, and did admit he is closest with Jordan and Irving.
“Just how he does everything well, shoot the ball, in the post, guard, the way he has to carry a lot of the load on that team,” said Butler of Irving. “I like his game, but more than anything I know how hard he works. I like him as a player and human being, really good friend of mine. No matter how good or talented you are, you still have to work hard and he’s a prime example of that.”
But, no, he’s not coming to the Bulls and Butler isn’t going to the Cavs, and probably nowhere, though Butler’s name is among perhaps a half dozen All-Stars in trade rumors, if not reality.
“Nothing they (he and All-Star teammates) can do about it,” Butler says. “Nothing I can do about it. Control what you can control. Why talk about it? Why worry about it? If you are here, you are here, if you are not, you’re not. I don’t know (what to say). As long as someone is talking about something it makes for a story. It’s not my job. It’s my job to play basketball to the best of my ability. If I’m here I’m here, if I’m not...
“I don’t pay attention to it,” Butler added. “Obviously, it comes up. But you control what you can control. You can’t help what people write or think or should happen. The majority of the time it doesn’t happen; sometimes it does. Enjoy your time.”
Good life advice as well.
Though mostly Butler had fun with the interviews, asking a reporter wearing a Boston Celtics shirt and seeking praise for Isaiah Thomas why he and others weren’t asking Isaiah about him. He laughed about reporters coming and going asking about, “The Foul!” That’s the news? He admitted he hadn’t thought about getting Michael Jordan a birthday gift Friday on Jordan’s 54th, which Butler says he should have as Jordan is a close advisor. “Thanks for putting me on the spot,” Butler quipped.
He also parried a question about since he’s emerged as the Bulls best player they have struggled to be around .500.
“So it was my fault?” Butler jabbed with a laugh. “I just try to be better, win some games when we can. I’m not going to say we are the reason we got worse. I’m not going to say that. That’s the way you made it sound; it’s OK. We’ll be better moving forward.”
Butler also was positive about the Bulls chances.
“I think we’re in a decent spot,” he said. “We’re in the playoffs as far as right now. We can do a lot better.”
Butler also talked about Chance the Rapper, the Chicago artist with whom he appeared on the magazine cover.
“Chance is an incredible human being and obviously an incredible talent," Butler said. "We do plan on doing a lot of stuff together in Chicago. I like to call it my city now, as well as his. He’s still there. We want to do as much change as we can. So we want to inspire people, give hope and I think moving forward you will definitely see our faces in that community a lot more. I don’t like to pick just one; there are so many ways we can help. Talk is talk until you go there and actually make it happen; you have to go out and actually do it. Like the basketball court. Don’t talk about it; actions are louder than words.”
Butler deftly parried questions about his engagement with coach Fred Hoiberg last season and relationship with former coach Tom Thibodeau. Because he knows.
“As you can tell,” he said, “every time I open my mouth and say something it can easily be blown out of proportion and now it’s everywhere. But I guess that’s what you ask for (with the fame). I feel like if I need to speak my mind I have the right to do so. People may not like it; I may be wrong. But you catch me the right time who knows.”
This is a pretty right time for Butler, who can see a 40-foot high mural of himself in downtown New Orleans, and has to have difficulty envisioning all of this.
“I never thought this was in the cards for me,” Butler concedes. “Make the most of it and it’s fun, but now that I’m here I have to keep working this dream. It’s an honor all your hard work is paying off. You look around here and see all of these great players in the game right now and for a kid like me growing up it’s a dream, being here; you are with the best and that puts a smile on your face.
OK, that’s it. Gloves off. So what’s with the shirt?
“My shirt? Just a shirt. What’s up with your shirt? My shirt is fantastic.”
Hey, he’s the star. Everything looks good when you are the star.