Jimmy Butler, home among stars
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
By Sam Smith | 2.15.2015 | 11:01 a.m. CT
Sometimes Jimmy Butler reminds you of the Nuke LaLoosh character in the hilarious minor league baseball movie, Bull Durham. Butler, the Bulls suddenly star—All-Star, actually—shooting guard tends to be pithy in his comments with media, short, direct and concise. Sort of like practicing your clichés, as the character was informed by the veteran in the movie.
This, of course, while Butler is often compared with the homeless young man character from the heartwarming movie, the Blind Side, about a youngster abandoned by his family as a teenager, left to the streets, taken in by a family who he befriends as he goes on to a career as a professional athlete and star.
So as Butler sat with reporters this weekend in New York, he was asked about the emotions. They had to be weighing him down, coming from Nowhere, Texas (Tomball, technically) to the city of dreams, New York and the NBA All-Star game, now arguably one of the best basketball players in the world when it wasn’t long ago no one believed he was one of the 1,000 best in Texas. When a decade ago he was virtually homeless, living from meal to meal, trying to get through school while just finding a bed inside. All of that to all of this?
Can you keep from crying, Jimmy?
“It’s cool,” Butler said with a smile and a shrug. “But I’m just hungry. I really want to go eat lunch. So the more lights, the more energy I’m wasting (talking), the hungrier I’m getting. So you need to buy me lunch.”
Same ‘ol, Jimmy.
Singing country music songs out loud in the Bulls locker room, in the shower, on the team bus to games. Strapping on his basketball hard hat to take on the opponent’s best scorer every game while playing the most minutes per game in the NBA.
“I been a workin' man dang near all my life
I'll be working long as my two hands are fit to use
I'll drink my beer in a tavern,
Sing a little bit of these working man blues
I keep my nose on the grindstone, I work hard every day
Might get a little tired on the weekend, after I draw my pay
But I'll go back workin, come Monday morning I'm right back with the crew”
-- Merle Haggard
Workin’ has been Jimmy Butler’s anthem, which is probably why he doesn’t elaborate all that much. You don’t look at the stars when you have to keep your nose to the grindstone.
It was basically always that way for Butler, who doesn’t much discuss his difficult and unfortunate early years. Lots of people have lots of problems. So don’t whine about yours. Do what you can to get to the next day.
And then figure it out, which is why when Butler got several questions this weekend about pending free agency he said it’s February. That’s later. Really wasn’t thinking much about it.
Like someday being an NBA All-Star.
From Tomball, Texas?
It’s a suburb of Houston, though if you’ve ever been to Houston downtown seems like a suburb, as well. Talk about your wide open spaces. You know how that goes, wide open spaces to find some new faces. Yes, most everything there is a country lyric.
“I was so far removed from thinking I’d be an All-Star that I couldn’t even think of it back then, to tell you the truth,” Butler said. “I’ve never been a best player on my team, probably never will be. So I’m always going to be under the radar. I think there are a lot of guys who are a lot better than I am; I just happen to sneak in there every once in awhile.”
Didn’t sound much like LeBron or Kobe, though not because Butler believes he’s undeserving or incapable.
“I have to play with a chip on my shoulder and continue to help win games and show why they chose me to be here,” Butler said. “I’m in a lot of spotlights right now; lights are bright. I just want to play basketball, be under the radar. Superstar. Nah, whatever you want to call it. Just be confident. Confidence is the key in everything that you do on the court, off the court, in a relationship. If you’re confident you’re going to succeed; make it happen. Confidence comes from your work, what you do every day. That’s what Buzz (college coach Williams) taught me. You just keep doing the same thing over and over you’re going to be confident because it’s all you’ve ever done.”
It’s surely an impressive and inspirational message for someone who had all the reason not to be confident. Not that Jimmy always was, shy as an adolescent trying to climb uphill through the headwinds of rejection.
So, of course, Butler will be out there Sunday for his first All-Star game.
Did you ever have any doubt?
Butler injured his shoulder Sunday against Orlando and then aggravated it in Tuesday’s win over the Kings. So Butler sat out Thursday’s victory against the Cavaliers, which is not the usual occurrence for the league’s minutes leader.
“I would never ask to come out of a game,” Butler responded to a question. “I ask for all these minutes and I always wanted to be an NBA player. So I want to be out there as much as possible.
As for being a teammate Sunday of LeBron James, well, Butler hesitates a bit there. He says it’s been enjoyable meeting and being around his Eastern Conference rivals all weekend. But without saying explicitly, he understands you don’t want to get too close to LeBron. Whom he will have to help thwart—now along with Tony Snell—for the Bulls and Butler to have the success they crave.
“Uh,” the solidly built 6-7 guard paused when asked about teaming with James Sunday. “It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be interesting to see from the opposing side what he does so well. I guess I have to cheer for the guy because I want to win; it’s going to be awkward.”
So, yes, Butler will be out there with the stars watched by the stars.
“Having East All-Stars on the front of the jersey is big for me,” agreed Butler. “I didn’t want to miss this. I’m all right, shot some threes (Saturday at practice). Get out there and move around a little bit. Just got to take care of my body like I’ve been doing this season. Definitely unfortunate (being hurt last week), but that’s what this time off is for. I’ll be out there. I don’t want to miss an All-Star game. It’s my first one; they don’t come easy in this league; that’s for sure.”
This one has been as unexpected as any.
Rarely able to get in games as a rookie after being the last pick in the first round, mostly an undersized power forward at Marquette, it was hoped some day Butler could be a hard working bench reserve. Butler averaged 2.6 points in rare play as a rookie and then 8.6 his second season finally getting a chance with injuries to Luol Deng. Butler took on a larger role last season with the trade of Deng in January and averaged 13.1 points. But he shot 28 percent from three and less than 40 percent overall. That hardly screams All-Star.
So Butler went home to Texas to work. OK, lots of players do that.
He left, in a sense, working with the printing press and came back with a Mac.
You don’t see this sort of change.
Butler basically carried the Bulls the first two months of the season with both Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah getting back into shape and flow from their knee surgeries. Butler averaged 21.9 per game in November and was the Eastern Conference Player of the Month. A conference with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade.
Butler continued in December, averaging 21.5 per game and improving his three-point shooting to about 35 percent. He slipped some in January to about 17.9 points with some personal crises but came back to near 20 per game in February.
So Butler became a star. Which also meant the NBA version of that Super Bowl media day with all sorts of media asking all sorts of questions.
Butler was asked to deliver his best wishes to fans in Japan and Costa Rica.
“That you for your support,” he said into cameras from there.
One of the best perks was being part of the Jordan brand. His favorite pair?
“I don’t even remember. They sent me so much stuff that my favorite thing is in there somewhere,” Butler said.
The story behind his number, 21?
“I don’t know. I just picked a number I guess. 21,” said Butler. “It’s good enough for me.”
Planning to release a country music album? No.
Guilty pleasure meal? Dessert.
Who takes longest to dress after games?
“Jo takes forever and it’s very annoying, but you have to love Jo for who Jo is,” said Butler with a smile.
Mayweather or Pacquiao?
“I’m gonna go with Floyd.”
What are you afraid of?
“I’m not scared of anything.”
“Finish this song lyric: I like the way you…”
“Move,” said Butler.
Jimmy Butler is on the move in the NBA.
Though not much in New York other than the NBA’s required community events and the game.
Because for the kid with no family it’s all about family.
“Just sit around, talk about it, do a bunch of nothing,” Butler said about his weekend plans as fellow All-Stars buzzed around to fashion shows and high profile parties. “My brothers are here to experience it with me and that’s the way it should be done. They’ve been a big part of why I’m here, so it’s only right that they get to go through this with me.”
And it will be special.
“I think it’ll definitely hit come Sunday,” said Butler. “That’s the day its really gonna be like, ‘Wow!’
Jimmy Butler has found a home.