Jimmy Butler achieved NBA stardom alone, one new family member at a time

March 9, 2023

Many people are already aware of Jimmy Butler’s upbringing, including his mother throwing him out of their dilapidated Tomball, Texas, house at 13 until a surrogate family eventually adopted him in high school.


Jimmy Butler hates that story. Not just because it characterizes him as previously homeless, a label he now argues was blown “out of proportion, times one thousand. I was not living beneath a bridge. That’s homeless. Or standing on the corner asking for cash. That’s not what it was. I’m not going to say it was the simplest of times, don’t get me wrong, but I had a house. Or homes.”


It’s also not because he still feels the effects of his early years and would prefer not to think back on them. During the off-season, he resides in Houston; Tomball is a nearby suburb. Regarding his biological mother, with whom he spent time in Tomball this summer, he says, “My family and I are on excellent terms now. “I’m good. I’m OK.”


It’s also not because he doesn’t value the Lamberts, a blended family of seven children who raised him through high school after he briefly couch-surfed. I had people, the man claims. I adore Tomball for it, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.


He despises that tale because he doesn’t think the events in Tomball influenced his development into an NBA All-Star shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls and one of the most alluring restricted free agents available this summer.

The old Jimmy would have thought of himself that way since he valued praise from others so highly. The Jimmy of today prefers to discuss the big picture, including his current location and the people who have assisted him. The new Jimmy explains, “I would call it the stage before a fresh beginning. I won’t argue that this is the beginning; instead, this is the action just before.


As heartbreaking as it is to consider a young child being abandoned by his family and left to care for himself, Butler thinks leaving his birthplace and moving away—first to junior college, then to Marquette University, and then to Chicago—was much harder. The coaches and everyone else who loved basketball in Tomball always had filled the vacuum left by his mother’s words that he wasn’t wanted. Butler boasted he could drop 40 on anyone in the nation while filling part of it himself.


The chorus went unheard. Nobody seemed to know him or give his game much consideration at Tyler Junior College, 200 miles away. The same barren greeting awaited him later at Marquette. Butler was a picture of juvenile bravado—a young person with nothing else to support his sense of self-worth.


He was ranked 73rd in Texas when he graduated from high school, according to Buzz Williams, the head coach at Virginia Tech and Butler’s Marquette coach. He was an afterthought in every manner. He didn’t go to play at a community college because a Division I team sent him there to prepare him; he went because he had no other options. Number 72 went to the Citadel, while Number 74 went to a Division II school.


Only because Williams scouted Joseph Fulce, a teammate from Tyler, did he end up at Marquette. A week before the spring signing period, Williams took over the program instead of Tom Crean, who resigned from coaching Indiana. This forced the Golden Eagles to scramble to complete their roster. They should invite Butler, according to Fulce.


Butler showed up on campus for the first day of class without a winter coat or cold-weather attire, so there were no recruiting visits, sit-down pitches in anyone’s living room, or press conferences.


The only offer Jimmy got was from Marquette. Scott Monarch, an assistant coach for Tyler, saw it while he was in the car and recognized it as the golden ticket Jimmy had been handed. Monarch drove to the closest McDonald’s and asked to use their fax machine after forcing Butler to sign it.


Butler, in the meantime, believed his biggest wish had come true as he sat in the car in front of the McDonald’s. He explains, “I was going to be able to go to college and acquire a degree. “That was my dream, and that was my objective.”


Butler was Williams’ first hire as head coach, and at that time in their lives, they had a lot of interests. Williams, like Butler, was a native of Van Alstyne, a little Texas town located northeast of the state. Williams spent more than a decade as an assistant before taking over as head coach at the University of New Orleans for a brief period until Hurricane Katrina prevented the institution from maintaining a Division I program. After a year, he joined Crean’s staff at Marquette and rose to assistant coach status.


Williams joked that he was only “trying to prolong my inevitable return to lugging hay” while requesting that this piece center on Butler. Behind the humor lies the reality of being from a small community and the anxiety of failing in the broader world. Williams was aware that Butler shared the same phobia.


Williams claims, “There was symmetry between where he was as a player and where I was as a coach. Because of his history, he had no backup plan and no way out, so I gave him almost brutal coaching, yet he was willing to comply with all I requested.


Williams knew Butler was his most outstanding athlete, had more talent than he anticipated, and could step it up as a shooting guard standing 6’5″—now 6’7″. Yet, he frequently informed Butler of his limitations because he knew Butler would do whatever to refute them. By pushing Butler to the limit, everyone else was held to a higher level, which led veterans and other NBA hopefuls like Wes Matthews and Lazar Hayward to band together to support Butler. Jimmy was on the verge of leaving Marquette after his first year, but the school’s support team, which included a recently hired Monarch, continued encouraging him to improve.


So, Butler—who had previously just been concerned with points—became the ideal utility player. Butler remembers that Buzz used to tell him, “You’re not very good,” or “You can’t guard this player,” and that’s what got me, and he knew it. I had to find a method to blend in, help the team win games, and eventually work my way into Buzz, being unable to pick me up off the floor. It wasn’t because I was the best Player; it might have been because I played hard on every possession, I might have been because I took charge, or I might have been because I defended. That’s why I will love him to death for the rest of my life. Never was it due to me being the best Player.


Williams held a boot camp consisting of preseason fitness drills at 5:30 a.m. On the last day of camp, by far the hardest, Williams took out their upcoming schedule and allocated sprints based on the opponent’s difficulty. Butler’s role on the court shifted, but he remained Williams’ standard-bearer for effort. As a senior, Butler had the unfortunate honor of running solo in sprints, which meant he ran twice as many as his paired-up colleagues.


On the road against Seton Hall? Brutal and deserves a timed sprint that is especially difficult. Butler states that either you make the deadline or you keep running.


Butler hit the far touchline during the final run of the last day, turned, and fell as his foot ripped through the sole of his shoe.


Butler remembers that the shoe was still laced when it reached about mid-calf. I lay there saying, “Damn, I can’t believe I just ran through my shoe,” anticipating Buzz’s response, “Hey, you went hard; we’re going to count it.”


Williams yelled, “Didn’t make it,” instead.


What would you like me to do, Buzz? I just got out of my sneaker.


Williams: “I don’t care; just repeat.”


Butler not only needed to take the shoe off, but he also needed to put a new one on before the next sprint began.


Butler explains, “That’s what Buzz taught us. “No matter what happens, finish. Nobody cares.” “That made me so much stronger, far too much better, so much tougher, to the point where, when the ball is rolling down the court, there’s no chance you could reach it, but you’re going to chase that ball down. You’re going to attempt to get it.”


Start there if you want to understand how Butler managed to play the second-most minutes in the NBA last season, move up to No. 1 this season (just under 40 a night), and not only never whine but still take responsibility for the Bulls’ defensive mistakes. Or how Butler calmly intercepted a pass, drew a clear-path foul, made the free throws, and helped Chicago eke out a one-point victory last weekend when the Orlando Magic had the ball and were up by six points. In a triple-overtime loss to the Magic in January, Butler played a franchise-record 60 minutes against that same Magic club.


Butler would always respect Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau for paying little attention to minute totals. His agent, Happy Walters, claims that he never complains.


“He does everything the team needs,” Thibodeau has remarked several times.


Williams assisted Butler with his mental health in addition to working on his game. Williams observed Butler’s ongoing rage and hatred and the emotional pain brought on by being abandoned (the reasons for which Butler keeps private to this day). They discussed how judging others is not the responsibility of the individual.


The first year had few two-way conversations, according to Williams. He watched Everything I said publicly and privately to see if it matched. He eventually started to trust me, but it was a process. We devoted a lot of effort to attempting to ease his suffering.


For their three years together, keeping his early years and adopted family private contributed greatly to developing that trust. Williams added that Butler might find guidance in the Scriptures. Butler borrowed one the day before a game and asked, “What should I read?” before slipping into the team manager’s closet. That became a routine.


Williams explains, “This kid didn’t believe in a God before he arrived.


Butler’s ability to follow instructions may be her strongest suit. At Christmas, Williams gave him a diary with the following instructions: 1. Read more than you might expect to. 2. Note down all relevant information. 3. Create dependable connections now for the next ten years. 4. Give God 10%, put 30% in savings, and live on 60%. Inscribed: Buzz, I love you.


Butler claims, “Everything about that man is real.


The mutual feeling exists. Williams refers to Butler as “pure” because he accepts coaching, a quality he thinks is becoming less common. Before selecting Butler with the final pick in the 2011 first round, the Bulls did their research, which included watching a video breakdown of each ball-screen coverage involving him.


The team saw a player that Marquette utilized to guard every position—from centers to guards to Everything in between—in every capacity. He occasionally guarded the ball, other times the screener. The Orlando Magic’s Matt Lloyd, who was the Bulls’ scouting director at the time and is currently with them, was quite impressed.


According to Williams, Jimmy’s coverage was as effective as it could be no matter what we were doing, whether we were trapping, switching, or downing the ball screen. Jimmy “hears” what you say as you say it.


Butler, though, did not assume anything. He attended the Portsmouth Invitational, a pre-draft training camp that elite athletes now virtually deliberately shun. He was named tournament MVP because his squad won every game. The most of any player that year, according to Williams, he still participated in individual tryouts for 17 teams. Nobody advised him to handle it differently.


The difficulty for the Bulls has been persuading Butler to see himself as more than just the ideal utility player. Rip Hamilton, a veteran shooting guard who played with Butler during his first two seasons in Chicago and was an excellent mentor, is now in the picture.


Butler says, “I’ve always been concerned about treading on people’s toes. Rip encouraged me to play by saying, “Hey, man, play. You’re just going to make Everything smoother for everyone else if you’re making shots and guarding. It’s a team. Everybody must take part. Play like you play when it’s one-on-one.” I was like, “But. He was, like, no buts. Rip helped me in building confidence.”


At the beginning of the summer, former Bulls guard Mike James introduced Butler to his trainer, Chris Johnson, who thought Butler could be just as versatile offensively as he was as a defender. This was the next phase in Butler’s development. As a counter to what Butler, the consummate defender, wanted to do, every offensive counter Johnson instructed him to design made logic, and with each move, Johnson gained more of his faith. He would clarify Everything I didn’t understand until I could say, “OK, that makes sense.”


Butler’s statement that he feels he is “at the step before a new beginning” might make Bulls supporters and front-office staff tingle. Last summer, Chicago gave him a four-year, $42 million extension, but he declined it. Even before he was selected the league’s Player of the Month for November and an Eastern Conference All-Star, it was seen as below his market worth. The Bulls should be aware that Butler still has a razor-sharp awareness of whether someone is honest with him despite having resolved the difficulties that prevented him from ever trusting anyone.


It’s not tense or untrustworthy, Williams claims. He believes everyone will eventually reveal their true colors, regardless of their position.


By all accounts, Butler doesn’t require money to be accepted or to support his way of life. He just spent the summer away from the distractions of cable TV and the internet at home. He declined to accept a line of credit from his agent or anyone else when the 2011 NBA lockout rendered him an unpaid free agent and property of the Bulls. He learned the distinction between needs and wants while growing up by relying on the goodwill of others.


He’s traditional in that regard, adds Walters. “I don’t believe he owes anyone anything,”


He also has a strong sense of self. Just because he enjoys sweets—apple pie in particular—and all too frequently finds himself too full at the end of a meal to indulge, he always eats dessert first, whether at home or in a restaurant. He doesn’t apologize for wearing cowboy boots or listening to country music, and he even has a pair of steel bull’s testicles below the back bumper of his black pickup truck. However, now that he’s had the opportunity to meet Christopher Bridges, better known as Ludacris, he occasionally mixes in some hip-hop. He avoids working out with NBA players that he knows he will face during the season, and he will leave the gym if they happen to walk in.


In the words of Walters, “He feels like there’s a war out there, and they may be friends after they retire.


Usually, only blood relatives are excused from sports due to bereavement, but Butler’s family members differ slightly. He calls Jermaine Thomas, a Tomball friend who supported him during trying times, his brother. To attend the burial of a fellow Marquette undergraduate who passed away unexpectedly, he departed the team early this season. He wasn’t personally connected with either of the two young women in college, but they both contributed to the development of the new Jimmy. He recalls, “She instilled in me that I was good enough and believed in me.


There is also Buzz, of course. When Butler turned 40 and Williams received a text from Jimmy wishing him a happy birthday, Butler was getting ready for his second season with the Bulls. Suddenly he received a call inquiring about what he had planned. Williams told him, “What I always do on my birthday. “Nothing.”


The door was then knocked on. Jimmy spent the day at their residence, located north of Milwaukee. He had driven there from Chicago. Jimmy went to a neighborhood pizza joint with Buzz’s wife and their four young children when she suggested they eat supper. He offered to put the kids to bed when they got home.


He also considers his biological mother to be a member of his family.


You learn that everyone blunders, he explains. “I’ve grown up so much because this game has taught me you don’t take anything for granted. You respect everybody. You make sure everybody feels loved. That’s more than Tomball could teach me,” the Player said. “I make errors. That means you don’t carry a grudge against anybody.”


He has instead transported it to Tomball. He returned and had dinner with the person who had sent him away. “You have to go,” were the final things mom said to him at 13. Williams clarified for him: You’ve got to go back. She told him one last time, “I’m proud of you.”


For this reason, he is still determining his next objective when asked. As far as carrying the weight of where he lived or with whom he did or did not live, he knows it is no longer behind him.


It’s here, and it’s happening now, he claims. “Every day is like a new beginning for me.”


Jimmy Butler signs a four-year, $184 million contract extension with the Miami Heat


Jimmy Butler, an All-Star guard for the Miami Heat, has agreed to a four-year, $184 million contract deal with the organization, according to a source told by his agent, Bernie Lee.


Butler has a player option for $37.6 million for the 2022–23 season in addition to his $36 million contract for the current season.


He will continue to be a party to the agreement during the 2025–2026 campaign.


Together with Bam Adebayo and Kyle Lowry, Jimmy serves as the franchise’s anchor and face, according to Heat president Pat Riley. He’s very deserving of this contract as he consistently places himself at the top of the league at his position. Having Jimmy in the HEAT organization has been a great coup for us. With Jimmy, we get an All-NBA player, an All-NBA Defensive player, tough as nails, and a complete player across the board.


The 31-year-old Butler is the focal point of Miami’s reorganized roster, which will attempt to reach the NBA Finals for the 2nd time in three seasons next season.


Butler was dealt to Minnesota and Philadelphia because Chicago hesitated to grant him a maximum contract. The 76ers finally completed a sign-and-trade two years ago to send him to Miami. Butler will have received a $287 million, seven-year contract guarantee from the Heat at this point.


Kyle Lowry, a buddy of Butler’s, was lured to Miami this summer thanks primarily to Butler. Lowry will work with Butler, All-Star center Bam Adebayo, and Duncan Robinson under a three-year contract of almost $90 million.


Butler, a five-time All-Star, has spent his first two seasons with the Heat after joining them from the 76ers on the third team of the NBA. Last season, he averaged 21.5 points, career highs in assists (7.1), and rebounds (6.9). Butler made the NBA’s second-team All-Defense for the fifth time in his career in 2021.


Butler has scored 17.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.0 assists throughout the course of his ten NBA seasons.