Adam Jun

Chicago Perspective

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Jimmy's Story: Butler's Hard Fought Road to Bulls MVP Candidate

April 17, 2013

Stories.  What would life be without them?

A character with the small stature and a big heart. A terrific journey. Often overcoming long odds.

If you paste a few of those concepts together, you've already begun telling a story of your own.

Story is evident in many of the good things we experience in the day-to-day

When hamming it up with your friends, funny happenstance becomes a great story told over and over. It bands you closer.

Story isn't absent from the  business world either.

The people at Disney's Pixar have storytelling down to a science and the creatives at Apple, Inc. have made their execs a mint in part due to story. 

Put your mind to it and maybe you'll be telling the next tale about three brave young wizards lifting the world's darkness to millions.

Or just making your family laugh over Wendesday night pizza.

Point is who doesn't love a good story? 

There's only one thing that can elevate storytelling, one of the most enjoyed instincts of mankind.

When the story is real. 


[Read an open letter to Derrick Rose: Here]

Jimmy the indispensable

Enter Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler.

A leading candidate for the unoffical Bulls '12-'13 MVP, Butler has also become one of the "glue-guys" in the locker room.

Jimmy's role was already set to increase due to a mass exodus of ex-bench mobbers this past offseason

In a season where rotation players (including Derrick Rose) have missed a total of 188 games, his growth as a player has been even more crucial for coach Tom Thibodeau's bunch.

Fortunately, Butler, 23, has kept his health and risen to the challenge amid the inury wreckage. 

Butler has played in all 82 games this season, starting 19.

In his starts the spry wing is averaging 14.6 pts, 7.2 rebs, 4.7 asts, and 1.8 stls per game. 

As his minutes have increased across the board so have his averages, and dramatically so. That includes all of his shooting percentages; FG (46.6%), 3pt (37.5%) and FT (80.6%.).

Remarkably, Butler's managed to be a numbers and intangibles guy. 

He's even earned the moniker "Kobe-stopper" for his work against one of the game's all-time great scorers. Though Butler brushes off the media-driven praise, insisting it's taken a team effort. 

In short, the guy Bulls color man Stacy King affectionately calls Jimmy Buckets has been the Bulls every man this season. Logging minutes at SG, SF and PF and guarding everyone under the NBA sun.

He also threw an electrifying dunk on Chris Bosh that we're still buzzing about: video

A long road

It's important to lead off with this quote from Butler, speaking to's Chad Ford in a pre-draft interview in 2011.

"PleaseI know you're going to write something. I'm just asking you, don't write it in a way that makes people feel sorry for me," he said. "I hate that. There's nothing to feel sorry about. I love what happened to me. It made me who I am. I'm grateful for the challenges I've faced. Please, don't make them feel sorry for me."-

It's been an amazing season for Jimmy Butler. But it hasn't always been so good for the 2nd year pro.

When Butler was just 13 years old, already going through life without a father, he heard words that should never befall a kid's ears.

"I don't like the look of you, you gotta go."

Shocked, Butler was on his own. No longer welcome in the Tomball, Texas spot he'd grown up in. 

He stayed with friends as long as could. Usually within a few weeks, he was moving on to a new place, seeking only a safe place to lay his head. 

He began to breathe basketball, and as he moved through the high school ranks, his abilities really started taking shape . 

One bold 9th grader in particular, Jordan Leslie, had been keeping up with Butler from afar, and took an opportunity after a summer league game to challenge Jimmy to a 3-pt contest. 

With matching competitive streaks, they became fast friends.

Butler was now a regular at Leslie's, playing video games, hanging out with the rest of the family and just plain clowning around, being kids. 

Leslie's mom Michelle Lambert balked at first. Money was tight. She had four kids of her own with her first husband who  passed away, and had taken on three more children with her new husband, Michael Lambert. 

Michael told the kids Jimmy could stay but only for a few nights during the week. 

But after awhile, a new kid would say "Tonight's my night to have Jimmy stay" every night.

After a few months passed, the Lamberts relented, and Michelle told Jimmy he could stay for good. 

"They accepted me into their family," Butler told Ford. "And it wasn't because of basketball. She (Michelle) was just very loving. She just did stuff like that. I couldn't believe it."

"Jordan helped him. They're amazingly close," Lambert told KC Johnson over the phone from Tomball in June 2011. "Jordan lost his father too, so they had that separation bond.

"Jimmy didn't trust many people so when they got together and they had their sports, they would trust each other better than anybody in the world."

With the love and support of the Lamberts, Jimmy realized his potential at Tomball high school, graduated, then spent one season at Tyler Junior College in Texas where he lead the Apaches (25-4) to a national ranking of 10th in the country.  

After his season in Juco, Butler became Tom Crean-replacement Buzz William's first signee at Marquette University.  Knowing the potential he had, Buzz pushed Jimmy harder than anyone he ever coached. 

Butler fought through his first season as a sophomore, with limited playing time behind future NBA players, Wes Matthews and Lazar Hayward. 

In the end it made him stronger.

"I was tutored by the best," Butler told Ford. "Those guys taught me so much about how to play and how to be a man. I knew that to be successful, I had to be more than a scorer. I had to become a leader. It's not about scoring. It's about doing what my team needs me to do. I wanna be that glue guy, I want to be a guy my team and my coach can count on. That's what I want to be."

After three seasons at Marquette, the Chicago Bulls drafted Butler with the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. 

Michelle Lambert was overjoyed. 

"I don't have words to describe it she told Johnson. Someone just gave him a chance. That's the main thing. No matter what anyone told me — you know, 'Why did you take in another kid? That's just trouble.' — I just knew in my gut he was special. I want to scream to the world and tell everybody what he's going to do."

Butler's words help crystalizes his still developing story.

"It's taught me that anything is possible," Butler told Ford. "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."

Count on Bulls fans proudly telling Jimmy's story for years to come. 

Adam Jun covers the Chicago Bulls for the Chicago Hoops forum on

Follow him on twitter, or the Bulls G+ for the latest developing Bulls news.

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