MIAMI — Jimmy Butler doesn’t mince words.
As he sits just three wins away from his first NBA championship, Butler is honest about what winning a title for the Miami Heat would be to him in his 12th professional season.
“Everything,” Butler told ESPN. “What are you talking about? That’s why everybody plays this game. I lied — that’s why a lot of people play this game — is to win a championship. Everybody here — is to win a championship. That’s all we lock in on, that’s all we’re focused on. Like we put so much energy towards winning and playing for one another that if we do this together, we get to celebrate this together, we’re like, I don’t know the word, itched, niched, we made our mark in history together forever, so we’re in that.”
As Butler, 33, comes into Game 3 of the NBA Finals against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night, he does so as the driving force behind the Heat’s surprising run. The Heat are just the second No. 8 seed in NBA history to reach the Finals and Butler has been at the center of Miami’s wins over the No. 1 seeded Milwaukee Bucks, No. 5 seeded New York Knicks and No. 2 seeded Boston Celtics. Butler won the Larry Bird trophy as the MVP of the Eastern Conference finals, but he has his eyes on an even bigger prize.
After many highs and lows in his previous stops with the Chicago Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers, Butler has fully embraced the culture that has been a bedrock of the Heat organization for almost three decades under the leadership of team president Pat Riley and, since 2008, coach Erik Spoelstra.
“It’s only about winning here,” Butler said. “It’s only about working hard, it’s only about being together, and they only bring people here that’s about one goal. We’re not worried about how much money you make, we’re not worried about the stats, we’re not worried about the All-Star appearances, we don’t give a f— about no Eastern Conference final MVP. Honestly, we don’t give a f— about no Finals MVP either.
“We only care about winning the championship and then we can break that goddamn trophy up 15 ways and we all get a piece of that, but that’s what it is.”
As Butler reflects on one of the most unlikely paths to stardom in NBA history, he does so with an appreciation for what he’s been through to get to this point. After being selected by the Bulls with the 30th pick in the 2011 Draft, Butler admits that even he didn’t see this level of stardom in his future. He worked his way up from being the last man on the bench in Chicago to being one of the top stars in the game 12 years later, but even he acknowledges he didn’t see this kind of rise to stardom coming.
“Honestly, no,” Butler said. “I didn’t know how many years I would play in the league. I had some guys telling me that I wouldn’t make it even in that [Bulls] organization, so it’s crazy to see how far that I’ve come to this day. I knew that I was a hell of a player, but I’d be lying if I knew I would be this. Be in this opportunity, being able to be one of the leaders, on this championship caliber team.
As Butler sits on the precipice of cementing both his own greatness and that of this iteration of the Heat, the team he’s now led to The Finals twice in four seasons, he does so with an admiration for being able to raise the level of his own game within the framework of a Miami team that follows his lead.
“I’m happy it’s here,” Butler said. “I’m happy I get to do it with these guys. I’m happy of the man, the dad, the basketball player, the everything that I am today. And I’m still very grateful for day one in the Berto Center [with the Bulls] and the Mayo Clinic [facility with the Timberwolves], and whatever the 76ers’ [facility is called], I’m grateful for all those opportunities that’s getting me here to know what I got to do to get it done.”