It’s different not better, right? Basketball without rivalries, or the alpha leader. This is the era of collaboration, multiple franchise players coming together in their prime to win. One player is bringing it to an end.
In the early going of the 2018-19 National Basketball Association season, Jimmy Butler, having friction with team, from the floor to the office demanded a trade. Jimmy wanted to be the man, on a team with several leaders. It didn’t go well with his teammates, coaches or front offices officials, at least the way he handled it. In October, after a few weeks away due to energy, he returned to practice, and what a return. According to ESPN, Butler took the third unit of unknown, fringe Minnesota Timberwolves players and beat a team of game starters. The third unit, lead by Butler won. It was a farewell, as he berated all within ear or sight, before moving on.
Butler, the former 30th pick by the Chicago Bulls in the 2011 draft, lead the team to the playoffs; followed by Minnesota, and Philadelphia, before joining the Miami Heat. He wanted to lead by any means. Not as scorer unless it was needed. Not as a defender unless it was necessary. He wanted to do all he could while motiving his teammates, as a captain, to win. He came into the league at the wrong time. Kobe, Tim Duncan and Shaq were responsible for most championships during the first decade of the 21st century, up until his rookie year, where the Dirk Nowitzki lead Dallas Mavericks beat the Miami Heat. Jimmy Butler is a throwback player, where you put your team on your shoulder and beat rivals. There was no discussion as to who the leader was. The league beginning around that time boasted a collaborative leadership approach, with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh at Miami. Today James Harden and Russell Westbrook are in Houston, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George with the Los Angeles Clippers, while LeBron James and Anthony Davis lead the Los Angeles Lakers. Many of the best teams, even the organically built Golden State Warriors shared Steph Curry and Kevin Durant.
Jimmy Butler has found a home in Miami, it seems. A place where he can lead using his rough background as a homeless teenager, his underappreciated and unsung abilities. The attitude that has players like him and veteran teammate Udonis Haslem sleeping on pullout sofas – now, in the 2020 NBA Finals ‘bubble’ so they don’t get too comfortable. It is his leadership that has hot shot rookies like Tyler Herro wanting to ‘win it for Jimmy’. Butler with his will to win is what the NBA, with its commercial success but falling American numbers need. We need the spirit of fight and competition to return. When players represented the mom and pop and small business grit, not big box stores that are here today and somewhere else tomorrow. With his 40-point triple double, Butler is the third to accomplish the stat line after Jerry West and LeBron James (he’s the only one to win the game). He let it be known that he is not only a rare, true leader, put can be a superman level superstar when necessary. If the Heat can win this series, by winning 3 straight games (a game 7 win is that much more improbable), Jimmy Butler immediately vaults to at least the foot of NBA’s great mountain of icons. No, this is not an overstatement. We wouldn’t underestimate him again. It is an affirmation. It won’t be just because he did it, that he became an NBA champion. It will be because of the way he did it, the degree of difficulty, an organic team, different pieces, playing complementary, without sacrificing individuality, brought together by one. A leader.