Jimmy Butler started at the bottom and now he’s here for the Chicago Bulls.
Here, the fourth-year guard is rising as one of the league’s brightest young talents. The bottom had been a childhood of growing up homeless, and waking up one morning as a still-needy and vulnerable 13-year-old to hear his mom bluntly tell him “I don’t like the look of you. You gotta go.”
Scripture tells us what that doesn’t kill you tends to make you stronger and Jimmy Butler now stands as a testament to that.
“His story is one of the most remarkable I’ve seen in all my years of basketball,” one GM noted to ESPN as Butler was leaving Marquette for the NBA draft in 2011. “There were so many times in his life where he was set up to fail.”
And now the 25-year-old Butler is here. Here as in now confident enough in himself and his abilities to recently turn down the Bulls’ offer of at least $11 million per season because he’s come to know and understand his worth.
And, more and more, so do the Bulls and the entire NBA. Butler has easily been the Bulls’ best and most consistent player this season, averaging 20.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists en route to being saluted by teammates as Jimmy Buckets. He reported to camp some 22 pounds lighter than at the same time last season and the difference in his performance has been just as dramatic.
Having failed to reach agreement with the Bulls by a league-imposed late October deadline, Butler can now become a restricted free-agent this summer. But the Bulls will have the option of matching any offer Butler receives and that seems just the way he wants it.
“People say I’m chasing money when that’s not it because I’m going to be in Chicago,” he said. “I’m not worried about it… yeah the deadline is over with, but this is still home, these are still my guys.”
Having gone so long without a family, the mere thought of being able to call one his own now seems to means everything to Jimmy Butler. In the days following his mom’s heartless declaration, Butler spent days and weeks sleeping wherever he could before Michelle Lambert and her family took him in.
Ultimately, that act of humanity gave Butler the kind of direction he now regularly exudes as one of the primary point-men in coach Tom Thibodeau’s demanding system. It’s why the no-excuses coach trusts him with guarding the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant each and every night.
“My whole life, people have doubted me,” said Butler. “My mom did. People told me in high school I’m too short and not fast enough to play basketball. They didn’t know my story. Because if they did, they’d know that anything is possible. That’s my chip. That’s what motivates me.”
Now, Lambert recalls the time Butler spent under her roof and alongside her family. “I’m not sure he understands what he did for us,” she says. “He changed our life too. We are better people for having him in our family.”
Not to worry. These days, Jimmy Butler surely knows and understands what his worth is.