Jimmy Butler is taking everything he’s worked for

Is Jimmy Butler an asshole?

It’s a question that’s been going around NBA fan circles for years now. Exactly two years ago, talk about his attitude on and off the court reached its fever pitch after he erupted in a practice with his team then, the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was on the headlines once more, but there was something about this outburst that made it more memorable.

In a series of scrimmages, Butler dominated the floor and made his mark. He wasn’t doing this playing with his fellow starters. As a matter of fact, he had to go up against core players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins while being paired with end-of-the-bench options. The talent disparity did not faze Jimmy; it fueled his play even more.

During the practice, he was particularly hard on Towns. “Am I being tough on him? Yeah, that’s who am I,” Butler said in an interview with Rachel Nichols. “I’m not the most talented player on the team. Who is the most talented player on our team — KAT. Who is the most God-gifted player on our team — Wiggs. Who plays the hardest? Me! I play hard.

“I put my body [on the line] every day in practice, every day in games. That’s my passion. Everybody leads in different ways. That’s how I show I’m here for you.”

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Reactions to Butler’s outburst were mixed. There were those who celebrated Butler’s old-school approach to leading the Wolves. On the other hand, others thought Butler was wrong for how he handled the situation with his teammates. The question started to go around once more.

Is Jimmy Butler an asshole?

Society generally tells us not to be an asshole, but in sports, those who have reached a certain level of competency are given a pass. Players like Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and even Chris Paul are some of the names who are in this pantheon of accepted assholes. If you’re not at that level, you had no right to be aggressive in leading your teammates. Jimmy wasn’t in the level of those four legends and as a result, his intensity was frowned upon by many.

Butler’s self-awareness isn’t talked about enough.  He knew he had a reputation, but he also understood why he was acting as such. There are two reasons that have stood out.

Number one: love for the game. “I love the game,” said Butler. “I don’t do it for any other reason except to compete, and to go up against the best and try to prove that I can hang.” If we’re talking about pure hoopers, Jimmy needs to be in that conversation.

The second reason is much more direct, but also more difficult to understand; it’s simply how he is as a person. “I’m so passionate. I don’t do it for any reason but to compete.” Love and passion.

Two qualities so hot you’ll need oven mitts to handle someone who had both. It’s a good thing Butler’s latest destination was built to handle the fire.

After jumping from Minnesota to Philadelphia, Jimmy Butler took his talents to South Beach. Butler and the Miami Heat were considered by many as perfect fits with one another. As a matter of fact, Brian Windhorst mentioned in an episode of The Jump that Heat Team President Pat Riley fell for Butler as quickly as Ross Geller hands out wedding rings to the girls he dates.

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The relationship between both parties looked like it made sense, but there were still doubts about how far they could go. Miami wasn’t exactly brimming with potential and talent. Butler had never been considered a top-tier wing in the same grain as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard. They were dark horses at best. Their fifth-place finish after the regular season further solidified this.

One of the biggest sins of the modern basketball fan is how one boxes a team or a player according to what they had recently done. Recency bias. The Heat, given their fifth-place finish, were believed to be a Cinderella team at best. Their Playoff run has completely squashed that claim.

Miami’s run in these playoffs has been their opportunity to reintroduce themselves. Each chapter has shown parts of their group’s personality.

Winning against the Indiana Pacers was expected but sweeping them was a pleasant surprise. Their second-round clash versus Milwaukee Bucks was where things got interesting. By slowing the back-to-back MVP while running an exquisite offense, the Heat were able to showcase their depth and intelligence as a group.

Celtics in 6 was the popular pick largely due to their perimeter talent. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were both excellent; they were able to match Jimmy, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson. But BAM, came Adebayo. The former Kentucky Wildcat destroyed Daniel Theis and the rest of the Boston’s front court, showcasing just how valuable the big man is in this era of perimeter-oriented play.

Then there’s the present. This was expected to be the brick wall that would stop this Cinderella run by the Heat. They were believed to be a feel-good team at best. Losing to the Lakers would prove the modern basketball fan right for putting them in this box. But Jimmy Butler wouldn’t allow it. His performance has shown us arguably the most important detail of their DNA as a team.

The run against the Pacers and Bucks showed the team’s depth and intelligence. The Celtics series was all about Bam’s incredible talent. This current battle against the Lakers? This one’s all about Jimmy’s leadership and defiance.

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Butler has been a monster versus the Lakers. With averages of 29.0 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 10.2 assists, you’d think it was his talent taking his game to a whole other level. That could be farther from the truth.

Jimmy is still limited as a basketball player. He’ll never be the monster three-point shooter that Damian Lillard or Steph Curry are, nor will he magically grow three inches and a pair of go-go gadget arms so he can match the Antetokounmpos of the world.

What’s stood out with Butler’s play has been his effort. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. The extra push when he defends has fueled Miami all series long. He’s remained on sixth gear when he attacks the rim, even when DPOY runner-up Anthony Davis is the one defending the hoop. The little things he does have proved to be the difference between getting swept and pushing this series to a Game 6.

Miami’s shown with their performance in these Finals that they’re not just a feel-good story. They deserve to be in this stage. They will not settle for moral victories. Feeling satisfied with just making it would be an insult to the culture that they’ve established.

Riley and Erik Spoelstra will receive most of the credit and deservingly so. But don’t forget to give props to Jimmy. His effort has helped enrich the Heat’s culture even more. Also, his journey to get to this stage has been particularly colorful. From intense practices, to heartbreak against the eventual champions, and now his story with the Heat, Butler has been through it all. Safe to say, it’s been worth it.

He wanted to get to this stage. Ever since, he’s acted like he deserves to be in this stage. Now, with two legendary performances against one of the three best players of all time, he’s shown us that he truly does deserve to be in this stage. He was built for this.

Let’s get back to the question at hand. Is Jimmy Butler an asshole? Let’s cut to the chase; he is. But he’s also earned the right to be one, whether you like it or not.