Jimmy Butler has gone from an underdog in the NBA to one of its most respected players. Few people expected Butler to have the success that he did in the NBA when he first entered. And if we look back at his life, Butler did not have an easy road to the NBA.
Butler’s childhood was not at all easy. His father was not around when he was growing up, which meant that his mother had to raise him by himself.
But that did not last long, as Butler revealed in an interview years ago that his mother kicked him out when he was just 13 years old. She didn’t like the way he was behaving and told him to leave the house.
"I don't like the look of you. You gotta go."
Those were the last words Jimmy Butler says he remembers his mother saying to him before, according to his recollection, she kicked him to the curb. He was 13 years old. There was no family to run to. No place to call home. No money in his pocket.
With no family to turn to, Butler survived by staying with his friends, and surrogate families as he tried to find his calling. His friend Jordan Leslie’s family adopted him, as the younger children looked up to him. Leslie’s mom, Michelle Lambert told him he needed to be a role model by getting good grades, doing chores, and behaving well.
Lambert: "I told him my kids looked up to him. He had to stay out of trouble. Work hard in school. He had to set an example. And you know what? Jimmy did it. Anything I asked him to do, he did it without asking questions."
Butler: "They accepted me into their family. And it wasn't because of basketball. She was just very loving. She just did stuff like that. I couldn't believe it."
In high school, Butler began playing basketball, and it gave him a lifeline, as he ended up becoming the 73rd ranked player in Texas. But his numbers were nothing spectacular, which didn’t get him any attention from collegiate programs.
Butler spent a year at junior college, where he was noticed by several universities, including Marquette, where he ended up going eventually. At Marquette, he spent a lot of time on the bench, before improving and becoming a versatile player.
He then declared for the NBA Draft, but again, was not given a lot of thought by scouts. He was selected with the 30th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. And since then, he has gone on to become a perennial All-Star and has even played in an NBA Finals for the Miami Heat.
Butler was not a top prospect entering the NBA, and there were doubts about him getting a chance. But Butler was determined to make it in the league, and those around him dearly hoped that someone who had worked so hard would get the opportunity to make a life for themselves.
Lambert (holding back tears): "I hope someone gives him a chance. No one gave him a chance. I guess we did, and look what happened. He finally had someone to make [proud of him]. If an NBA team gives him a chance, he'll do the world for them. That's what he did for me."
Butler: "It's taught me that anything is possible. My whole life, people have doubted me. 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. Who would've thought that a small-town kid would become a halfway decent player in college and now has a chance to be drafted in the NBA? That's my chip. That's what motivates me. I know I can overcome anything if I just take everything one day [at a] time."
Since entering the NBA, Butler has made a great life for himself. He did not hold a grudge against his mother. And a few years into his career, he was able to reconcile with his family as well.
"Me and my family are on great terms now. I'm good. I'm OK."
"You learn everybody makes mistakes. I make mistakes. That means you don't hold a grudge against anybody. I've grown up so much because this game has taught me you don't take anything for granted. You respect everybody. You make sure everybody feels wanted."
On top of that, he started his own family, with his girlfriend Kaitlin Nowak, and his daughter Rylee, who was born in 2019, just before he made his debut with the Miami Heat.
Butler’s journey to the NBA shows that anyone can be successful as long as they are willing to put in the work and have the talent. Butler’s road was not easy by any means, but he has reached his destination. And in the end, it was all worth it.