Jimmy Butler: The Quintessential Bull
It’s easy to see why the Chicago Bulls fell in love with rookie Jimmy Butler. Last season’s Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau has put together an environment in which team comes before statistics; defense comes before offense; adherence to the system comes before individuality. Butler, it seems, has played his entire basketball career sticking to these basic principles, and his ego is smaller even than Derrick Rose’s. The Chicago locker room is full of humble guys, good guys, and the team’s lone rookie seems as though he’s going to fit right in with last season’s 62-win Bulls.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do was win,” Butler told HOOPSWORLD while readying himself for the season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. “In high school, we didn’t get to make the playoffs, so all I wanted to do was win. In junior college we were highly-ranked, but we didn’t even make the national tournament. At Marquette, we went further and further in the tournament, but all I wanted to do was win. At the end of the day, that’s all. Coming in and knowing that the fans, our team, our coaches want to win a championship, that’s all that matters to me.”
He’s not just saying that. Butler has never been the sort of player that talks the talk yet secretly tries to pad his own stats, sometimes at the detriment to his team. In, fact the knock on him coming into the draft was that he wasn’t a great scorer, a great passer, or even a great athlete. Someone like that isn’t often accused of playing selfish basketball, but while scouts all agree he does a lot of things well, they also agree that he doesn’t do anything great.
On a team like the Bulls, however, all that matters is effort, mental toughness, and the will to win.
“People say I need to come in here and score, but that’s not me,” Butler said. “I just want to play hard. I want to prove to my teammates that, hey, when you need a breather you take your breather and I’ll come and give it my all for however many minutes you need me to. I’m not worrying about what everybody else says—you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that—I’m worrying about what my teammates tell me I need to be able to do.”
Specifically, that means playing defense and shooting the rock when he’s open.
“I want to be able to guard,” Butler added. “That’s my number one thing, but I’ve got to be able to hit that open shot. If not, then what am I good for? I’ll admit that I’d love to get into the lane, but you’ve got to give Derrick Rose room to create, and when he gets in there and everyone collapses on him, he’s got to be able to give it to somebody. I’ve definitely got to be to hit the open shot.”
It’s no secret that the Bulls will go as Rose goes, and early in Butler’s career, the 22-year-old MVP has been every bit the mentor you’d expect out of a much older player. Rose was the first teammate to contact Butler after the draft, and he has been adamant in including the rookie in everything from group workouts to casual dinners to video game sessions at teammates’ houses.
“I think that I needed that because it’s a new lifestyle. It’s a new team. It’s a new family,” Butler admitted. “Them all reaching out to me during the lockout, they didn’t have to, but they wanted to, and they’ve accepted me as a new family member, a new teammate. It’s incredible. You look at your phone and you’ve got Derrick Rose texting you, ‘Hey man, where you at? Come through here. Let’s do this.’ It’s helpful because anything I need—basketball, off the court—he’s only a text message away.”
That tightness, that group rapport, was a huge reason last year’s Bulls team was so successful. The overwhelming majority of those players and coaches are coming back for 2011-2012, so including the new kid, making him feel part of the group, is a very savvy thing for Rose to be doing.
“He’s a great guy. He’s the MVP, but more than anything he’s a player, and he’s a kid like us,” Butler said. “That type of leadership wins games, and we’ve got plenty of leaders who don’t care about self goals. All they care about is team goals and trying to win a championship. That’s what this game is all about—playing with those other four guys out there, no matter how old they are or where they come from.”
And there it is. That Chicago Bulls philosophy. It spills forth from Butler’s lips like he’s already been coached by Thibodeau for years. No wonder he’s the guy they selected with their first round pick last June.
Whether or not he’ll actually get a chance to play is still very much up in the air, especially behind monster minute guy Luol Deng, but whatever happens, this young man is more than ready to pull on his first NBA uniform and start playing some professional basketball.
“I’m going to be sweating before I even put it on,” Butler joked while thinking ahead to the start of the season against the L.A. Lakers on Christmas Day. “Just looking back as a kid, when you wore everybody’s NBA jersey, you’re going to be wearing your NBA jersey. So that’s got to go up in the house. That’s a special jersey. That first one, that first time coming out in the lights, it’s definitely going to be an incredible feeling.”
Even more incredible is knowing he landed with the right team. The Chicago Bulls have already fallen in love with the kid, but Bulls fans won’t be too far behind.