Jimmy Butler: ‘I don’t have regrets’
The NBA All-Star talks about his improbable journey in his own words
He was born in tiny Tomball, Texas. His biological father didn’t bother. His mother kicked him out of the home at 13 in Houston. He was homeless before being taken in by a family before his senior year in high school. He hooped in junior college after light recruitment. He was the last pick in the first round of the 2011 NBA draft.
To say the odds weren’t stacked against Jimmy Butler to become an NBA star, and just a success in life for that matter, is an understatement to say the least.
Today, the four-time All-Star is a member of the Philadelphia 76ers after his trade request was granted by the Minnesota Timberwolves. While his presence in Philadelphia has reportedly made waves — which he and coach Brett Brown have denied — Butler will be one of the NBA’s most coveted free agents this summer.
Butler sat down with The Undefeated before a Jan. 2 contest in Phoenix to discuss his life and NBA career. Here are his reflections, as told to The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears, on his rise to success, short stint with the Wolves, hopes with the Sixers, and more.
Everybody got different odds for different reasons. I got lucky.
I also think I was blessed enough with the right tools, the right people around me to be put in a great situation. But odds? I don’t think they were too great if we’re talking about the numbers part of it. But I am where I am, odds or not.
Do I continue to defy the odds? Am I against odds? I don’t even think about too much of that stuff no more. It’s fun to look back on it, but the odds are just what they are — numbers. And the way that everybody’s talking about numbers and analytics nowadays, it just kind of angers me anyway.
I was the 30th pick. I had that moment where I wondered if I would survive in the NBA.
I’ll never forget a conversation that I had with somebody. And it was really just out of the blue, so I took it as kind of disrespectful because I was just being a happy-go-lucky kid — happy to be in the league, working, lifting weights, going to the gym. Somebody pulled me to the side, I’m not going to say no names, and was like, ‘Do you know how many of the 30th picks make it to the second contract?’
And I was like, no.
But the way that he said it, it was kind of like, ‘You’re going to be out of the league soon.’ And I was like, man, ‘Why are you coming at me like that?’
He was like, ‘Why don’t you go research it and come back and let me know?’
And so, I did it. Tell you the truth, I can’t remember exactly what I found out. Not many, not many.
But I got mad. I took it as disrespect. I work incredibly hard. I know I belong.
And I realized I made it during my first All-Star appearance in New York in 2015. You’re walking into that room and it’s like Melo [Carmelo Anthony], it’s like D-Wade [Dwyane Wade], ‘Bron [LeBron James], it’s KD [Kevin Durant], all those guys. And then they’re like, ‘Yo, congrats. Welcome.’ It’s like, ‘Welcome to what? All you guys are sitting in this room like this ain’t no big deal ‘cuz y’all done this seven, eight, nine, 10 times.’
You’re talking about the best of the best. The superstars. The faces of the league. I’m sitting over there quiet, like, I don’t even know what to talk about. I don’t have multiple All-Stars. I don’t have that much in common with you guys yet.
But then I’m watching the way that they interact, that was when I was like, you know what, maybe I have made it a little bit.
I like it when people say that I’ve changed. I would agree. I have. Because if you’re not changing, you’re not evolving. That means you’re being stuck. The world is constantly changing.
How have I changed? I put a lot more people around me to help me be a better athlete, take care of my body, make sure I’m eating right, make sure I’m getting the right amount of all of that stuff that goes into my job. I didn’t have that years ago. I wasn’t paying attention to it years ago.
My house is a little bigger. I got a few more cars. My clothes are a little different. My jewelry is a little different. The way that I think about things is a little different. But, yeah, you do change. What do you want me to do? You want me to live in a same type of house with no gate on a busy street that I could do when I was a first-year player in the league?
I’m sorry. I can’t do that. For my safety, for a lot of other reasons as well. But, yeah, I changed and it makes me smile to know that I’ll continually change.
But me as a person, I don’t think I’ve changed. And if I do something out of line or out of character, I have people around me that’ll be like, ‘Yo, that’s not you.’ I’m like, ‘You know what, you’re right.’ But that’s why I have the people around that I do have around. I don’t think anybody’s afraid to tell me whenever I’m wrong. I’m not afraid to tell people when they’re wrong. So, me as a person, no, I haven’t changed. I just may look a little different, or the car that I’m in is a little different. Other than that, I’m still me.
Tell you the truth, I don’t really worry about the perception of me from everybody. Only the people that are around me every day. If somebody that’s around me every day is saying, ‘Look, man, you coming off this way and that way,’ then I got to take a step back, like, ‘Damn, you’re around me every day, you see my mannerisms. You see how I’m interacting with people. You’re probably right.’
So, if you’re not one of those people, it’s really hard for your perception to be spot-on correct if you don’t talk to me every day, or you don’t like the way I answer something, or the way that I handle something. You don’t know what was before all of that.
So, maybe I got asked the same question 100 times. If somebody asked you the same question 100 times, that hundredth time you can get pissed off about it. Of course, you are. You just answered it 99 other times. So, you’re not paying attention to what’s built up behind the whole thing.
I had a pretty solid year there with Minnesota. Met some new people, some new teammates, and did something that wasn’t done there in 14 years, making the playoffs. But things just didn’t work out the way that a lot people had hoped and planned that it would. But that’s just the business part of basketball.
When people say, ‘You’re this, you’re that,’ ‘You could’ve handled it better,’ OK, but until you’re sitting here in my shoes and across from whoever I was sitting across from, you would never know. It’s all ‘he said, she said’ until you are the two of you sitting in the room.
So, I would say that it was a great chapter in my life, like all the other ones that I’ve had. I still have some pretty good relationships with a lot of people over there. I have no bad things to say about anybody.
As for the Sixers, the potential is through the roof.
We’re still working out all the kinks of everything. Everybody trying to figure everybody out two months in and we still got a long way to go. The whole thing is just to win and figure out how we’re going to win come playoff time. That’s what you think about, but you got to get there first. So, we got to make sure that we continually win the day at hand.
I think as long as everybody’s honest with one another, which is what I’m telling everybody every day, like, if somebody has a problem with something or somebody, you just talk to them. You figure it out. And that’s the only way we’re going to win, when everybody is being transparent with one another and you know how everybody feels about every situation. You got to be able to talk. Communication is always going to be key.
Playing with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons is great. I think there’s a lot of bumps in the road because when you here, everything’s a little bit different. That’s not to say that’s a problem in any way, shape or form, it’s just, you got three guys that have been really good players at certain points in their careers, and now you’re putting them all together on the same team.
We’re trying to figure it out. We’re sitting down talking about it. We’re trying to be about it out there on the basketball court. And it’s working. We just got to keep going. We got to keep talking.
We have some really good players in JJ [Redick], Landry [Shamet], Will [Wilson Chandler], you can go all the way down the line. But I think it definitely does start with us three. We want to do well. We’re trying to do right. We want each other to be successful. As long as we keep doing that, we can be a really good team.
Nothing in this world is ever promised to be here tomorrow. I remember Buzz Williams, my college coach, he was the first one to pound that into my head on a daily basis. And I think that’s one of the many quotes that I live by. What you have today may not be here tomorrow. But if you just live for it today and you do everything that you can today to be the best, or to show somebody that you love them, or that you care, or that you’re this or that, I think you’re doing right by yourself and by the world.
When you start thinking too much about yesterday or tomorrow, you get lost, man. I don’t know a lot, but I can tell you for right now, I live my best life in today. One day at time, man.
I don’t have regrets. There’s not too many things you can change, whether you do it out of anger, fear. I’m not going to regret it because it all plays a factor in who I am. It may play a factor in what people think of me as well, but I know who I am. I know where my heart is.
I’m not going to say that I think everything through thoroughly. No. But everybody makes mistakes. I don’t think I do anything to hurt anybody. Well, I don’t on purpose, I should say. I just don’t, man. I don’t regret anything. It makes me who I am. All the things that I’ve been through, all the things that I’ve learned, all the things I’ve messed up on, I’m not regretting any of it. I’m continuing to live my life.
I’m a firm believer in God, man. And I love it. I try to go to church every Sunday. I’m constantly in my Bible because I know I couldn’t write this story myself. There’s no way. There’s absolutely no way that the way my life has taken so many turns and how I’ve been OK through the ups and through the downs — man, he’s looking over me like he wants me to be successful.
The people that I’m constantly getting in my life, that’s because of God because he knows me and he knows that I need help. And he always puts somebody in my life to help. And I think my biggest guardian angel, and I tell him this all the time, is Mike James.
I played with Mike actually twice with the [Chicago] Bulls when I was young in the league. And every time I was going through something, Mike would send me a text or a Bible verse. I was just like, ‘How did you even know where my mind was at? What was going on?’ And I love him for that. Someone has always been there for every single occasion and I can’t tell you how, I can’t tell you why, or how anybody would know. But that’s just God working in my life.
Whenever you have the right people in your corner that are always wanting you to do great, life gets easier. But also, your dreams seem more reachable and attainable.
That’s the biggest thing you can learn from my story is that your mind is an incredible tool in a sense that, if you think you can do something, you can, and that same mind that you’re using every single day can help somebody else. Because I’ve lived it and I’ve been through it, people can relate to me in many aspects of life.
And so, they’re like, ‘I know if he can do it, I can do it.’