The Rise of Jimmy Buckets

Chicago Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler has spent his entire life bouncing back from adversity and overcoming the odds.

Through the turbulent home-life he survived as a child and the years he spent homeless as a teen – not to mention the countless non-believers that have followed his every move on the basketball court – Butler has developed an inner-strength of impressive proportions.

It’s a strength that has guided him through his long and winding journey to the NBA and continues to shine the way as he embarks on the next phase of his professional career.

After failing to reach an extension agreement with the Chicago Bulls last month – despite real attempts from Butler and his representatives to work out a deal – the 25-year-old will become a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

As a result, this season represents yet another significant challenge for Butler; another chance to take his game to a new level and prove himself all over again.

“It came down to me deciding that I want to bet on myself,” Butler told Yahoo Sports recently.  “It was about me believing that I put the work in this summer to become a better player with the hope that my improvement will give the Bulls a better chance to win a championship.”

So far Butler has moved his chips to exactly the right spot on the table, having begun this season in scintillating form.

Following his career-high 32 points yesterday, Butler is averaging 21.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game over his first eight of the regular season.

Already an elite defender, Butler worked hard on his offensive skills over the summer; further developing his low post game and consistency from the perimeter.  The results have been on display over these first three weeks with the Bulls regularly running Butler onto the block as part of their new offensive schemes.

With an improved jump shot and new moves in the post, Butler has increased last year’s disappointing sub-40 field goal percentage to an outstanding 53%.  That’s first in the league for any non PF/C averaging over 15 points per game.

“He’s doing everything,” commented Head Coach Tom Thibodeau after an early-season win. “He’s guarding, he’s scoring, he’s making tough plays, he’s physical, doesn’t say boo, works hard, plays for the team, plays to win.”Butler’s current numbers will be difficult to maintain over the entire season, but bet against him at your own risk.  Simply, Jimmy Buckets has succeeded against overwhelming odds his entire life.

Butler’s father abandoned the family when Jimmy was just an infant and at age 13 his mother kicked him out of the house.

Her parting words: “I don’t like the look of you.  You gotta go.”

Alone, homeless, penniless and with no family to turn to, Butler did what he could to survive.

For the next 4 years, throughout his days at Tomball High School in Texas, Butler crashed wherever he could – a couch here, a mattress there – desperately trying to stay afloat and keep out of trouble.

What happened next, shortly after Butler turned 17 and just prior to his senior year, comes straight out of Hollywood.

Butler made friends with a ninth-grader named Jordan Leslie and began staying at Leslie’s family home.

“I was always like ‘man you can stay the night, my mum won’t care’,” Leslie told ComcastSportsNet Chicago last year. “It kind of developed into a week and then a month.”

After a while, Leslie’s mother offered Butler the chance to stay for good.

“They accepted me into their family,” Butler told Chad Ford of ESPN. “And it wasn’t because of basketball. She was just very loving. She just did stuff like that. I couldn’t believe it.”

After years on the move, Butler finally had a regular place to stay and a loving family to call his own.

“That’s family, that’s what that is,” Butler explains.  “People say ‘oh, that’s not blood’.  Well, I feel like family is who you love, who you always want to be around… Whenever you ask me who my family is, you’ll get those names, you’ll get those people.”

So, just how similar is Butler’s story to that of NFL player Michael Oher, made famous by the film The Blind Side?

“It’s a lot like it,” Butler has said when asked of the resemblance.  “I’ve seen my mum watch it and she cries.  She compares me to it all the time.  I may have dropped a tear here and there because it’s true.”

With a stable support system around him, Butler went on to star in his senior year at Tomball High.

Nonetheless, the Division 1 recruiting letters did not come flooding in.

Instead, Butler landed at Tyler Junior College, not far from Tomball, where then Marquette Assistant Coach Buzz Williams saw him while recruiting another player.

When Williams became the Head Coach at Marquette the following year, he called Butler to offer him a scholarship.

Butler would be finally playing Division 1 college hoops – the achievement of a dream.

Unfortunately, with Williams’ demanding coaching style wearing him down, the transition wasn’t an easy one.

“I was always like ‘I want to come home, I want to transfer’ because he was so hard on me,” Butler said.

Nonetheless, he stuck it out and by his senior season had started to gain the attention of pro scouts.

Come Draft night in 2011, the Bulls were wrapped to land Butler with the final selection of the first round, 30th overall.

“We think he’s got the potential to help us sooner rather than later,” remarked Chicago GM Gar Forman after the Draft

And he was right.  In only his second year as a pro, Butler averaged 40.8 minutes per outing in the 2013 Playoffs, playing the full 48 minutes of five postseason games.  He was arguably the Bulls most important player as they overcame Brooklyn in round one and pushed the eventual champion Heat in the Conference Semis.

Now, with another year of work under his belt, Jimmy Buckets is taking his game to an All-Star level.

His early season form has been nothing short of outstanding, driving the Bulls to a 7-3 record.  He’s scoring, rebounding and diming more than ever before and is currently ranked second in the NBA in minutes played, behind only Reggie Jackson from Oklahoma City.

With that kind of production, and with the market for elite wings recently delivering fat contracts to comparative players like Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward and Klay Thompson, Butler could be looking at a major payday this summer.

Bleacher Report featured columnist Andres Montero, for one, believes Butler will be signing a max deal when he eventually puts pen to paper.

However his restricted free agency pans out, Jimmy Buckets has come a long way since those teenage years growing up alone in Tomball, Texas.

Remarkably, it’s been a journey he wouldn’t alter one little bit.

“I feel like the obstacles and everything I had to go through to get to where I am, made me who I am.  I wouldn’t change any of it.”


Follow me on Twitter @liam_santa

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I like to think that I bring the all-important little man’s perspective to the Downtown crew. The rim may be 10-feet high folks but the court, itself, is at ground level. My one season playing ball on the national scene was back in 2001/02, when I played the vital role of 4th-string PG as a member of the Victoria Titans. Go back and watch the tapes, I’m confident that only Patty Mills outranks me worldwide as an end-of-the-bench towel-waver. This experience, however, gives me the kind of an insight into pro hoops that can only be gained by spending time ‘behind the curtain’. These days I spend most of my spare time squeezing every last cent out of my League Pass subscription. And when I’m not playing, watching, writing about or podcasting about basketball, you’ll find me soundly outplaying all-comers at the fantasy version of the game. Safe to say that if I had a tatoo it would say ‘mum’. But if I had two tatoos, the second one would definitely be of a basketball. Follow me on twitter: @liam_santa

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