Jimmy Butler was 13 years old when his life could have turned for the worst. Most kids are running around, focused on school and girls while enjoying life to the fullest. Not Butler – Jimmy was scared because he didn’t have any place to go.
The Remarkable Jimmy Butler Story
“I don’t like the look of you. You gotta go.”
Those were the last words that the Chicago Bulls guard remembers his mother saying to him before he was kicked out onto the streets to survive all alone. He had no family around to take him in, he had no money, he had nothing at this point.
Butler kept all of this on the down low until the 2011 NBA Draft, when the interview processed started. One GM had this to say about Jimmy:
“His story is one of the most remarkable I’ve seen in all my years of basketball. There were so many times in his life where he was set up to fail. Every time, he overcame just enormous odds. When you talk to him — and he’s hesitant to talk about his life — you just have this feeling that this kid has greatness in him.”
Jimmy was kicked to the curb from his Texas home at a very young age. What does a 13-year-old do with his life with no money, and nowhere to go?
He did everything he could to just stay alive.
His father wasn’t an option either, having abandoned Butler’s mother while Jimmy was just an infant. So, he stayed with friends as long as he was able to, sometimes they would let him stay up to a couple weeks before he had to move on.
Basketball Gives Jimmy a New Opportunity
As his senior season was approaching, Jimmy started to really focus on basketball, and his recruitment began to pick up, but none from the top schools where after him. As it turns out, he met a freshman named Jordan Leslie, who was from the same city of Tomball, Texas.
After a summer league game, Jordan challenged him to a 3-point contest. After that, the two became pretty good friends and Butler became a regular at the Leslie household.
Michelle Lambert, Leslie’s mother, was unsure of the situation at first because there were already four kids in the house and money was tight. Jimmy was considered trouble, but that wasn’t the actual case. He was considered trouble because he didn’t have a home, because he had no money, and nowhere to go… not because he did anything wrong.
The family agreed to let him stay, but it would only be for one or two nights at a time. Every night that he came to stay at the household, the kids would pull a “fast one” and a different kid would say “tonight’s my night to have Jimmy stay.” The kids showed that they really liked having him around and they wanted him to be apart of the family. After a few months of begging, the family agreed to take him in for good.
Jimmy Finds a New Family
The household decided to accept Butler as one of their own. He was now part of a family, and would get to experience life the way most high school kids should. Michelle had rules though, and he had to follow them in order to be a member of the family. The number one thing she wanted Jimmy to do is to be a role model.
Michelle had this to say:
“I told him my kids looked up to him, he had to stay out of trouble. Work hard in school. He had to set an example. And you know what? Jimmy did it. Anything I asked him to do, he did it without asking questions.”
He responded to the family support and went on to have a monster senior season for Tomball High School as team captain. Jimmy averaged 19.9 points, and 8.7 rebounds per game.
“They accepted me into their family, and it wasn’t because of basketball. She was just very loving. She just did stuff like that. I couldn’t believe it.”
Jimmy’s Feel Good Story Was Falling Short
Despite the fantastic senior season from Butler, he still did not gain any interest from any Division I schools besides Mississippi State, and they ended up passing on his scholarship offer. Butler was not on the radar of any scouts, mostly because he didn’t play AAU basketball.
AAU basketball is where the majority of scholarships generate, where the scouts come out, and this killed Jimmy’s chances of playing Division I. Jimmy would not let this ruin his chances of achieving his dreams as he enrolled at Tyler Junior College just down the road.
The guard made a splash from the beginning. Playing in his first conference game, Butler dropped 34 points and it did not stop there. He continued to have 30 point games followed by a few 40 point games.
His fantastic season earned him honorable mention JUCO All-American and coaches all around the country began to take notice. The fantastic play gained offers from Kentucky, Clemson, Mississippi State, and Iowa State.
Jimmy now had a mom to go to for guidance and help him with this tough decision. Michelle played a key role in his decision to attend Marquette.
“He had a lot of offer, but I was impressed by Marquette for academic reasons. That’s a great academic school. I told him he should go there because basketball may not work out long-term. He needed a good education and a degree to fall back on.”
Jimmy Takes the Guidance and Runs With It
With his mother’s guidance and help, Butler decided to opt for Marquette, but things got off to a rough start. Butler was accustomed to being the main guy, and a leader, but this was not the case at Marquette.
During his sophomore season, he was relegated to a role in which he found himself coming off the bench. This didn’t sit well with him. Often times, Jimmy wanted to leave and go home. Buzz Williams had this to say on Jimmy.
I’ve never been harder on a player than I’ve been on Jimmy. I was ruthless on him because he didn’t know how good he could be. He’d been told his whole life he wasn’t good enough. What I was seeing was a guy who could impact our team in so many ways.
Jimmy averaged just 5.6 points in only 19.6 minutes of play that season for Marquette. He did not let that break him down as he continued to thrive and never give up, because that’s what he was accustomed to doing.
By the time Jimmy’s senior season came he was a solid contributor to the Golden Eagles averaging 15.7 points. He could rebound, handle the rock, pass, and play defense. His game resembled his personality off the court.
The 2011 NBA Draft came and Jimmy Butler was made the 30th pick overall by the Chicago Bulls. His hard work had finally paid off. He’s now considered a fantastic player in the NBA and there are no signs of him slowing down.
Butler went from homeless to NBA star in a matter of years. When asked about his childhood during the NBA Draft process he had this to say:
Please, I 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. I hate that. There’s nothing to feel sorry about it. 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 taught me that anything is possible, 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.”