ORLANDO, Fla. — In preparation for what he says is the biggest playoff series of his career, Jimmy Butler is bouncing, off the wall, off the floor, off his teammates. He’s the heartbeat of the Heat and this is evident here in practice, not just the games. Butler can’t turn himself off.
His personality is apparent and infectious. He can be playful and irritating, comforting and prodding, challenging and understanding. He is all that because that’s what Miami wanted when it signed Butler last summer, looking for him to be himself and energize a team trying to transition into a title contender.
“Best decision I ever made,” Butler said. “I belong here.”
The feeling is mutual. His Heat teammates, especially the younger ones, gravitate to Butler, and in that sense, Butler has never felt more at home or this wanted in his NBA career. Through stops that led him to Chicago and Minnesota and Philly, Butler never felt quite right, and there were uneasy episodes in those places, mainly because Butler believed he wanted to win more than anyone else.
He’s now at an intersection — Jimmy Buckets is in his prime at age 30 and feels this stop is his best, if not last chance, to make a lasting statement. A 6-foot-7 guard from humble beginnings — no one ever thought he’d make it this far in basketball — Butler gets respect for his inspired and emotional effort on both ends, always willing to accept the toughest defensive assignment and also take the biggest shot. He’s averaging 19.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.5 steals in these playoffs, and now come the Milwaukee Bucks.
Butler’s play against the top-seeded team in the East will be paramount to Miami’s chances of advancing to the conference finals. On the eve of the series which begins Monday, Butler agreed to an interview, covering a variety of subjects, even … Hall and Oates?
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Question: Before we get into basketball, let’s get into beer, and specifically the commercial that’s getting heavy TV airplay during the playoffs. This is your first national advertising opportunity. How’d it come about?
Butler: I like to get behind brands that I enjoy, and we do drink Michelob Ultra around my household. Me and my boys drink it, me and my dad, everybody. So it’s kind of a thing with us. When they became a sponsor with the league, I jumped at the chance. Me and my production company started filming around my house. It all made sense. Everybody loves the commercials from what I hear. The feedback’s been great.
Q: The commercial’s theme song that you sing is “You Make My Dreams Come True” while you’re packing for the trip to Orlando for the playoffs. Be honest: How much Hall and Oates is on your personal playlist?
A: I actually had this song! And also “Step Brothers” which is one of my favorites. So I already knew the lyrics to it which made it easier to sing. I’m being serious.
Q: Speaking of serious, we know you on the basketball court as a fierce competitor who never breaks expression. Do you think the commercial shows a different side of you?
A: Definitely. And that’s what I try to explain and get across to everybody, about who I am outside of basketball. You know the a-hole, quote-unquote, I can be out there on the court. But I’m telling you, off the court, I would like to think I’m as fun as anybody else. I just think that’s a part of what (the commercial) is all about. I’m singing all the time on the bench. When we’re not competing at a high level, I’m singing all the time. That just shows you who Jimmy Butler is as a person.
Q: Last question on the commercial: You’re pulling some cowboy boots from the closet. That’s some symbolism and a salute to your roots, correct?
A: That’s another part of me. I’m from Texas. I love being a Texas boy. I take pride in that. There’s always some part of Texas that’s in my household, whether it be some clothing, boots, a steak in the refrigerator. I love being from Texas, proud to be from Tomball, just outside of Houston.
Q: You had a choice to go anywhere in the NBA last summer as a free agent and instead of staying in Philly with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, you came here. Why’s that?
A: There’s this one player who played here, Dwyane Wade, he had a hell of a career here. He always told me the culture, the way that they work here, it’s you in every single way. Well, I never thought I’d leave Chicago. Then I realized this is a business and I ended up leaving to two other stops. It didn’t work out in Philly. But when I got here I could do nothing but smile, because of the way everyone talks to each other, the way everything is laid out on the table, you come in and work and then we have fun. This is the reason I play the game. These guys are like me in so many ways that I absolutely love being here, to compete with and for these guys. I’m having so much fun.
Q: Do you have a way of sizing up teammates, as you did in your previous stops, to know if they’re prepared to play on your competitive level?
A: I don’t have to size them up. I know. I can look in your eyes and tell if you’re ready. I know what’s going on with you mentally. Out here on the court, every single day, you’ve got to give your all, 100 percent. When we’re in a film session, everybody’s talking, so you get a feel for these guys. I can talk to them and give some constructive criticism and they can talk to me. There’s no going behind somebody’s back.
Q: Are you constantly in the ear of a particular player?
A: I’m in everybody’s corner. Take Kendrick Nunn. He went from playing a lot as a rookie during the season and all of a sudden during the playoffs he wasn’t playing. But everybody tells him, ‘We’re going to need you.’ He knows we need him. So he kept working. He did that. He stayed ready.
Q: Your teammates in the past, especially in Minnesota, probably took your approach the wrong way?
A: Man, I care. And we should all care. That’s why I fit in here. They got me to be me. I’ll get on guys when they’re not doing their jobs and they’ll cuss me out when I’m not doing mine. It’s not personal. It may not always come out that way but I mean well. That’s how they want it here.
I’ll get on guys when they’re not doing their jobs and they’ll cuss me out when I’m not doing mine. It’s not personal. It may not always come out that way but I mean well.”
— Jimmy Butler
Q: Who was your Jimmy Butler early in your career?
A: Adrian Griffin. Always telling me my rookie year, you gotta stay ready. Constantly making sure I was ready even when I wasn’t playing much. I wouldn’t be the player I am today without him. Always making me work.
Q: You and Nunn and Duncan Robinson and Derrick Jones Jr. are long-shot players who weren’t drafted high and in the case of those three, not drafted at all. Is there a shared determination that you have?
A: The Miami Heat look for those diamonds in the rough, players that are hungry, players that got some dog in them and play for one another. These guys do what it takes to be here in the league for a while.
Q: Do the playoffs bring out a different side of you?
A: This is where you play your best basketball. It may not be scoring or getting an assist. It could be anything. That’s what I try to do. My coaches and teammates know I’m capable of making that happen. This is the time to really hoop, when I play at my best. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win. I would like to think that I’m a winning player. I haven’t won what I want to win yet, but I’m not a loser.
Q: Do you believe you’re overlooked by the public at large?
A: I don’t need an MVP. I don’t care about anybody’s opinion. No trophy means anything except the Larry O’Brien. I want to be a champion, man. I mean that. I think we can do something special here.
I don’t need an MVP. I don’t care about anybody’s opinion. No trophy means anything except the Larry O’Brien. I want to be a champion, man. I mean that. I think we can do something special here.”
— Jimmy Butler
Q: How do you tell your teammates, some of them still developing, to keep a future-is-now mindset?
A: Look at what we had in Philly and how that didn’t go anywhere, and before you know it, they’re not in the playoffs anymore. Some guys’ career can go this way or that way. Life works in a weird way so you never take anything for granted. So when you have something, you roll with it. Right now. You don’t wait for two years or five years or for a draft pick. You win now and I think that’s what the Miami Heat is all about, right now.
Q: You tried to make a social justice statement by wearing a jersey without a name on the back. The league rejected that. Your thoughts?
A: As players and famous people we’re judged favorably because of who we are. But if I wasn’t where I am today, I’d be no different than any man of color walking down the street. That was really the meaning behind it, what I was trying to get across.
Q: What should we expect from you and the Heat here in the next round?
A: Our best. My best. We’re here to win. Now we’ll see what happens.
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