Following a startling game five in which the Miami Heat, a number five seed in the Eastern Conference, defeated the number one seed Milwaukee Bucks 103-94, the Heat just stomped on the favorites for the NBA Finals. Whether they play the Celtics or the Raptors in the conference finals is yet to be determined, but they look to bring the first championship back to South Beach since a 2013, LeBron James led Heat team. The player at the helm this time isn’t contentiously the number one player in the history of basketball, rather one Jimmy Butler, who’s on his third squad in as many years (fourth overall). Butler had a tremendous postseason heading into game five tonight, averaging 22.3 points per game, 35 minutes per game, more than two steals to go along with five rebounds and four assists on average. The thirty year old veteran is a five time All-Star but his story wasn’t supposed to make it this far.
With his father leaving shortly after his birth, he grew up in a single-parent household until adolescence, as his mother kicked him out of their home at thirteen years old, clarifying that her reason was that “she didn’t like the look” of him. Having to couch hop is way through middle school, he was essentially homeless. Butler, however, doesn’t perceive it in such a way, asseverating that in an interview a number of years back. “I was not living under a bridge, that’s homeless. I wasn’t standing on the corner asking for change; that’s not what it was. I’m not going to say it was the easiest of times, don’t get me wrong, but I had a home…or homes.” While this isn’t what we primarily think of as a homeless person, this is considered secondary homelessness. It wasn’t until High School that he had a more ideal set up when he was re-homed with a surrogate family. After receiving no offers at basketball, he opted into a local college for the first year of his associates. He performed really well his first year, and the next year attended Division 1 School Marquette, an application letter in which he faxed from the McDonald’s he was working at. He turned himself into a bona fide college superstar, which paid dividends when he was drafted 30th overall by The Chicago Bulls.
A league average player through the 2014 season, he broke out in a major manner in 2015 when he was elected to his first All-Star Game. In July of that year, he signed a 5-year, $95M contract and never had to worry about where his next meal would come from ever again. Butler, now nicknamed Jimmy Buckets, became the first Bull to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player and was now the perennial All-Star the Bulls had drafted so highly on.
Following a 2017 trade to the Minnesota Timberwolves, he requested a trade before the 2018 season and officially became a Philadelphia 76er at the trade deadline. During his tenure with the Timberwolves, Butler was the unfortunate recipient of the reputation of “headache.” He had a copious number of clashes behind the scenes with both his teammates and team management. In October of 2018, Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted out that he even shouted “you [expletive redacted] need me, you can’t win without me” at general manager Scott Layden in front of his own teammates. It was that same practice he teamed with the bench players to mop the floor with the other starters on the squad to prove his point.
He landed a spot lounging in the Florida heat (pun intended) on South Beach prior to the 2019 season, in a sign-and-trade that saw him getting a maxium $140+M deal. Butler has taken every uniform he’s played for in his career to the playoffs, but has yet to get that elusive championship ring. When Jimmy Butler steps on the court, he shows an extraordinary amount of determine and grit. A lot of his issues with prior teammates were about their work ethic, after they had adopted a more “paint by numbers” play, going through the motions every time they took the court. The most notorious example is Derrick Rose, which led to the Bulls trading him to the Knicks. Ironically, Rose was one of his teammates in Minnesota. If it wasn’t for the greatness of Kawhi Leonard, that 76ers team with Butler may have gone all the way, now he looks to go farther with less. Current teammate Tyler Herro credits Butler for a lot of his development, however, citing that “Jimmy has taken me under his wing since the summer and really pushed me and showed me the right way and has given me the confidence and has really put me in the right spots.” The Heat have a giant team, with a small roster. The supporting cast is arguably the worst of Butler’s career, seeing as around is that of Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson. This isn’t the 2017 Warriors or 2003 Spurs by any stretch of the imagination. That’s how good Butler is and how much the hard work mindset pays off. Every player leaves their heart on that court.
The player that was once considered “problematic” is now the leader of perhaps the NBA’s most underrated club and a club that is certainly dangerous. Will they find out on Wednesday whether they have a date with the Celtics, or will the defending champions force a game seven?
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