As we approach the Opening Day for the NBA this holiday, we take a look at many of the stories surrounding the upcoming season. One of these stories, and perhaps the most powerful and heartfelt all, is Chicago Bulls rookie Jimmy Butler.
Selected 30th overall, the last pick of the first round, Butler exudes all that is good in the NBA. And being picked last in the first round couldn’t be ironic for a young man who has excelled against all odds to become one of the Bulls most promising young talents.
Born in Houston, Texas, Butler was born into a life a laxity. Shortly after birth, Butler’s father abandoned him and his family. When he was 13, living with his mother in a suburb of Houston called Tomball, Butler was kicked out unexpectedly by his mother.
Citing that she didn’t “like the look” of the young Butler, he was told he, “had to go.” Forced to fend for himself and become self sufficient at an age where most kids were only thinking about sports, girls, and what to do on the weekend. For Butler, the motive was survival.
That all would soon change for Jimmy.
During the summer before his senior year, Jimmy attended a basketball league, where then freshman Jordan Leslie challenged him to a three-point shooting competition. The two were instant friends, and Butler began to stay over at the Leslie household.
After a few months, the Leslie family, already raising six children, decided to take in Butler as their own. As a senior for Tomball, Butler averaged 19pts and 8rebs a game. But what was more significant for the 18yr old was the fact that he had a place to call home, and a loving support system he could call a family. Which he describes by saying,
“They accepted me into their family. And it wasn’t because of basketball. She [Michelle Lambert, Leslie’s mother] was just very loving. She just did stuff like that. I couldn’t believe it.”
That support system would help the young guard through more tough times. Looking to make a way for himself in basketball, he wasn’t heavily recruited by any colleges and chose to attend Tyler Junior College. After one season at the JuCo, he then transferred to Marquette University. During which in his first season he averaged 5pts, and 4rebs per game.
Butler wouldn’t stop at just getting minutes for Marquette, he would earn a starting position with the team his junior year. Butler averaged 14.7 points, and 6 rebounds per game during his junior year. That would earn Jimmy All Big-East Honorable Mention honors and finally a chance to be in the spotlight.
By Butler’s senior season he shredded his “scorer” label, exuding versatility and leadership, and an ability to defend multiple positions. Keeping his focus on being the best possible student-athlete, Butler went heavily recruited without even noticing. Another humbling trait about the young guard, Butler speaking about his senior year performance,
“I was just so focused on our team, on us winning,” Butler said. “It’s not that it wasn’t a dream. Like I said, I was just trying to live one day at a time.”
One scout said to ESPN about Butler’s talents,
“I saw him at a game versus Providence. He did everything,” one NBA scout said. “He guarded Marshon Brooks. He was special. So many guys come into the NBA with role-player talent and think they’re a star. I knew this kid could come in and fit, right away, on a good team. That’s the appeal.”
Despite a stellar senior campaign, Butler’s personal highlight came on senior night, when Michelle Lambert, the woman who took him in, escorted him out to half-court.
Even though Lambert isn’t Butler’s biological mother, he looks at it like she might as well be,
“We are all attached at the hip. I give her the credit for helping me become who I am. I love her. You would think that she gave me birth. I talk to her every morning. She’s very loving. That’s my family. That’s Michelle Lambert. She is my mom.”
Butler has never looked for sympathy, matter of fact he has done so much for himself in efforts to deflect such pity. If anything he wants those who see his story to see someone who didn’t let circumstances get the best of him. Someone who fights, despite the odds. Something that will bode well with a team that spent last season excelling, despite being the underdogs, even with the best record in the NBA.
Jimmy Butler went from a kid who was told, “I don’t like the look of you. You gotta go.” To…
“With the 30th overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls select….. Jimmy Butler!”
Not only does this story feel good, but it has the potential to propel another young Bulls player into stardom. And as his track record shows, he will never, ever, let the hype get to his head. A trait fit for a 2011-12 Chicago Bull.
Just like another player we know all too well..