MIAMI — Jimmy Butler may have the NBA’s most unique personality, oozing with a mix of unfiltered confidence; blunt, sometimes confrontational honesty; and an innate responsibility to be the hardest-working person on the court.
That’s exactly why he felt the Miami Heat culture — which often exhibits many of those qualities — was the best place for him.
Butler is now the face of the Heat, holding a role that recently retired Dwyane Wade had shouldered for the better part of the past two decades. Butler doesn’t anticipate changing who he is in Miami, but he does want to correct a narrative he believes got out of control.
“I don’t think I’m that bad of a guy,” Butler said at his introductory news conference Friday. “I’m not an a–hole like everybody thinks that I am.
“I’m a little extra at times. I don’t think there’s not too much wrong with that, either. If you do what I do every day, and other people don’t go about it that way, I think you might have a problem with it, too. I love my job. I love the game. I love to work. I’m at it every single day at hours and times when people don’t want to do it. I think, why doesn’t everybody do what I do? To this day, I don’t understand it. I really don’t. Will I ever understand it? Probably not. Will I overreact? Probably so.”
Heat president Pat Riley said the better description of Butler is a competitor who “wants to be the guy who can stir the drink.”
Headlines have seemed to follow Butler in recent years, notably how he challenged and called out teammates as he was traded from the Chicago Bulls to the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Philadelphia 76ers and then to the Heat over a two-year span. The most notable came last summer in Minnesota when Butler demanded a trade from the Timberwolves, then doubled-down on that request during a now-infamous practice in which he led a group of reserves to dominate a group that included multiple Timberwolves starters and then questioned the work ethic and passion of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Many situations surrounding Butler have centered on him wanting his teammates to match his work ethic and what he’s willing to do to win.
The Heat seem like they will encourage his intensity and desire to push players.
“We’ve talked about wanting to be respected,” Riley said. “In order to be respected, you have to show the competition that. We’re going to find out how he meshes with our team. We’ll see what his impact on winning. That’s what I’m encouraged about. I embrace all the qualities he has.”
Butler says he feels comfortable being himself in Miami — because of both the city and the organization. He will get every chance to be the guy who, as Riley said, stirs the drink for a reshuffled Heat roster that will look to him for scoring, defense, leadership and more. He’ll judge his teammates by their work ethic, and will hold them accountable for that just as he has in the past.
“I’m me. I’m my purest form,” Butler, 30, said. “I probably get carried away a little bit. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It lets guys know you got to go at ’em. Don’t back down from them.”
One Heat player who Butler believes already has that same mentality is rookie guard Tyler Herro, who he says doesn’t back down from him no matter how much trash he talks or how much intensity he brings during practice sessions. He’s also been impressed by the number of players who have tried to beat him to the gym in the morning, and are there working on their game late at night. He chalks that up to one of Riley’s favorite monikers — the Heat culture.
Riley looked full of glee as he held up Butler’s No. 22 Heat jersey with him on stage. He remarked that Butler, his big splash of the offseason acquired in a sign-and-trade with the 76ers, “is a great player. I think he’s a top-10 player myself.”
Nearly six months ago, Butler watched intently in the background in 76ers gear, as the Heat honored Wade during his final home game. AmericanAirlines Arena erupted with noise loud enough to shake the seats when Wade was honored, and Butler says seeing that “had a lot” to do with his decision to pick the Heat this summer.
“The fans embraced [Wade], the way that he worked, the person that he was, obviously the player that he was, all the winning that he’s done, I want to be a part of it,” Butler said. “All I want to do is to continue to pick up where he left off, keep his culture going in the right direction.”
So Wade, and his frequent talks with good friend Butler, played a significant role in him choosing Miami. The four-time All-Star out of Marquette said, “I kept hearing about this culture. I was like, ‘I need that in my life.'”
That led Butler to spurn a five-year offer to stay with the 76ers and sign a four-year, $142 million deal with a Heat team that narrowly missed the 2019 playoffs.
Butler says he doesn’t even think about whether the 76ers could have done anything to bring him back because “we don’t know what could have been.”
But for Butler, who grew up in extremely rough circumstances in Tomball, Texas, and had to work for everything he got, an organization built around the concepts of hard work, grit and conditioning was a perfect fit. Riley figures Butler got a taste of that from when his Bulls teams couldn’t get past the Big Three Heat teams in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“We hated you guys. We definitely did,” Butler said of those Heat teams. “That’s how I want it to be whenever I’m here. I want other teams to hate us. … You know it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a dogfight.”