Jimmy Butler has a reputation that’s hard to shake. It started in Chicago, when Butler and co-star Dwyane Wade publicly ripped their younger teammates for a perceived lack of effort and focus as the Bulls struggled to stay above .500. It reached a fever pitch when Butler was traded to Minnesota and openly feuded with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, reportedly calling both “soft” (among other things) during a legendary practice tirade before he was dealt to Philadelphia.
The knock on Butler was that he was a bad teammate. A locker room cancer. A headstrong diva who was impossible to get along with. It’s a narrative that has followed Butler to four teams in four years as he arrived in Miami to sign a max contract with the Heat this past summer.
No one is talking about how bad of a teammate Butler is anymore. The Heat are the Eastern Conference’s surprise contender, surging to a 25-10 start that has the franchise currently positioned as the No. 3 seed after missing the playoffs last year. Butler is playing at an All-NBA level, grading out as one of the most impactful players in the league in whatever advanced metric you prefer during a season when his scoring is down and his shooting percentages have plummeted.
Look closer and you will see that Butler isn’t just Miami’s best player, he’s also the team’s biggest cheerleader. All of the sudden Butler looks like one of the most supportive teammates in the NBA.
The good vibes in Miami started with rookie Tyler Herro. Butler took the 19-year-old under his wing from the moment he entered the organization, inviting him to private workouts, praising his work ethic and character in the media, and telling anyone who will listen that he “love(s) that kid”. Shortly after, Butler started “Tyler Tuesday” on social media honoring his teammate:
Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro are wildddd pic.twitter.com/U0fUEpEWri— BBNation (@BBNation15) October 23, 2019
Veteran guard Goran Dragic has also built a budding friendship with Butler. While Butler’s arrival pushed Dragic to the bench and often took the ball out of his hands in crunch-time, the two have developed a strong relationship both on and off the court.
Here’s what Butler had to say recently about Dragic, via the Miami Herald:
“Man, me and G talk about all types of stuff,” Butler said. “We send each other all types of things that we find on the internet. I don’t know, man. I was talking to [Heat assistant athletic trainer Armando Rivas] the other day, like G is moving up on my all-time favorite teammates list.”
“Fierce competitor. He really don’t say much,” Butler said. “But he will [expletive] eat you, for real. Then just the respect he has around the league, in this organization and from his teammates just goes to show how he’ll run through a wall for you. If he can go, he’s going to go.”
Dragic gifted him a Slovenian soccer jersey, and Butler said he’s going visit his home country in the offseason. This is what Dragic had to say about Butler:
“It just happened,” Dragic said. “I feel like some things, you can’t just force it. We get along. I didn’t know that he was a huge soccer fan, and I am, too. We just connected. It’s one of those things that just happened. … I just like his character. He’s funny.”
When Dragic was the star for the Heat in an early January game, Butler interrupted his post-game interview to give him a hug:
Butler has also been a huge supporter of big man Bam Adebayo during his breakout season. Adebayo has become a full-time starter for the first time in his career in his third season, and has responded with an All-Star caliber campaign. Butler has been encouraging his young center all season, even coming up with a bet where he gives Adebayo $500 after every game in which he attempts a three, but Adebayo owes him $500 when he doesn’t.
When Butler was recently asked how it feels to be on a “one-star” team when so many of the other contenders feature two superstars, Butler pointed to Bam as the team’s star.
Reporter to Jimmy Butler: "What do you say when they say you need a team of two to three stars and this team has just one star?"— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) December 19, 2019
Jimmy: "This is a team of one star? Who is that? Bam [Adebayo]?
It isn’t just the biggest names on the roster who have gravitated towards Butler. It’s everyone. Butler has maintained a playful relationship with backup center Meyers Leonard, even after a mysterious case of a stolen rebound. Leonard responded with an Instagram post “paying off” the bounty.
Both publicly and privately, Butler has touted his teammates at every opportunity. Put a microphone in his face and he’ll talk about Herro even when he’s the star:
Off the court, he seems to help the team stay loose and have fun:
The signs of Butler being a great teammate were there last season, too. He started a headband club with Ben Simmons. He turned the attention to Landry Shamet in post-game press conferences. He developed strong camaraderie with fellow superstar Joel Embiid.
Take it from Erik Spoelstra, one of the most respected head coaches in the NBA, who detailed why Butler is the embodiment of everything a max player is supposed to be:
"It's not about stats. ... It's not about whatever 2K numbers you can get."— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 3, 2020
Erik Spoelstra explains his definition of a max player, and why Jimmy Butler is one of them pic.twitter.com/Y006UjsVZk
Butler is certainly demanding as a teammate, expecting the same commitment to excellence that he gives from everyone else around him. Butler’s Bulls teammates from a few years ago couldn’t give it to him (many of them aren’t in the league anymore) and neither could head coach Fred Hoiberg. Butler told Chicago it was his way or Hoiberg’s way, and the organization chose Hoiberg (who they later fired for an even worse coach). Towns and Wiggins couldn’t meet Butler’s demands either, which became even more frustrating because Butler saw how much potential both had.
Perhaps the good vibes will go away if Miami starts to struggle or if they’re eliminated in the playoffs. Don’t bet on it. Butler was always a perfect fit for the Heat’s culture. Surrounded by likeminded players who don’t bristle at putting in work, Butler has become the type of leader every team want out of its superstar.