Jimmy Butler: From Homeless to Superstardom

Jimmy Butler: From Homeless to Superstardom
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I don't like the look of you; you gotta go.

Not exactly the words you would expect to hear from your mother as a young teenager. However, if it wasn't for those harsh words, piercing the skin and ears of Jimmy Butler, who knows where he would be nowadays. Kicked out of his house at the young age of 13, Butler was going nowhere quickly. Butler never really knew his father as his father never made an effort to be in his life. All throughout schooling as a growing teenager, Butler was essentially house-hopping. He was going from one house to the other, staying at each place for a short period, with no structure in his life to go along with no money. Butler struggled to get by until his senior year of high school, when the Leslie family took him under their roof.

Taking his hard-nosed determined grit and unwavering willpower with him into high school basketball, Butler fought adversity there, too, at a small school located in the epicenter of Tomball, Texas. The elders there, mainly his coach and the principal, didn't believe in his abilities. It wasn't to the point of ridiculing, but they didn't believe in Butler's abilities. They held him down a bit (and yet he still averaged just under 20 points per game and under nine rebounds per game his senior year, being named the team's most valuable player), and therefore went rather under-the-radar and got no scholarships to attend a Division I college. Butler had to settle for Tyler Junior College.

In his freshman season, he averaged a hair over 18  points per game and just over 7.5 rebounds per game, making a name for himself enough to get some attention from various Division I colleges. Butler attended up taking a scholarship to Marquette University, but not just for the chance to play basketball. At the bequest of Lambert, he decided on Marquette due to their academic track record, just in case basketball didn't work out for him. He came off the bench in his sophomore season, but cracked the starting lineup his junior season and stayed there throughout his senior season, steadily improving upon each season and proving to be a big-time player in monumental games throughout his tenure. He helped Marquette reach the NCAA tournament multiple years in a row. He had some memorable performances, two of which include game-winners against Big East foes Connecticut and St. John's University.

Butler did what no college athletes seemingly do nowadays. He stayed in college all four years, something you can tell has benefitted him through his current stampede in the NBA. Through all of the adversity, it was amazing that he even made it as far as college. Even still, he only started at a small-town junior college. It wasn't until then that he started getting recognized for his remarkable abilities and his unwavering tenacity. Butler made it somewhere he was never supposed to be: the land of the giants. On the big stage, his story was garnering attention. One NBA general manager had nothing but praise for Butler just days before the 2011 NBA draft.

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.

What a gift it turned out to be when Butler was passed over and fell all the way to 30th, the last pick in the first round, to the Chicago Bulls. Capable athletes like JaJuan Johnson, Cory Joseph, Derrick Williams, Norris Cole and Nolan Smith were all taken before him. Looking back now, Butler is one of three athletes in the draft that has made the All-Star team (Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson are the other two; not bad company to be in). As was the case for every rookie under hard-nosed head coach Tom Thibodeau, with his rookie season coinciding with a lockout that caused the season’s length to shorten, Butler received hardly any time to prove his worth. His numbers through 42 games played in his rookie season weren’t noteworthy.

What Butler did expose in his very short stints in his rookie season was a defensive prowess. He showed in his little time that he could handle himself on the defensive end, showcasing impressive footwork and positioning for an NBA rookie. In his sophomore season, Butler dominated in the Summer League, putting up numbers that rivaled his numbers from his senior season in high school. Even still, Butler found it hard to crack the rotation regularly. He played in every game, but his minutes were inconsistent, only receiving playing time due to injuries. It wasn't until an injury to former Bulls-ironman Luol Deng that Butler was able to start. In his very first start, in what is now a very typical Butler performance, Butler played all but 47 seconds of the game in what was a breakout performance. He notched 18 points to couple with eight rebounds and three steals.

By the postseason, Butler's spot in the Bulls' rotation was undeniable. He was averaging over 40 minutes per game in just his second year in the NBA, proving to be a favorite of coach Thibodeau (all it took was hardwork and determination for anyone to be a Thibodeau favorite). In his third season, the Bulls exercised their team option on Butler as Butler continued to see steady improvements in each statistical category slowly as he started to improve and became more comfortable with the flow of the offense, seeing statistical improvements in points, rebounds, assists, steals & blocks. Butler set a Bulls franchise record for minutes played in a game (60 minutes) in a triple overtime victory against the Orlando Magic, proving Butler was the new Bulls' ironman. His ironman status coupled with his impressive defensive IQ and prowess lead to his nomination to the NBA All-Defensive second team in his third year.

In his fourth season, Butler truly began to shine. In the summer before the 2014-15 season, Butler turned down a four-year, $44 million contract extension from the Bulls. At the time, that offer seemed decent given his play in seasons previous (if not a bit of a lowball). Butler wanted to prove that he was worth more than just that. Butler was stunning everyone in the first month of the regular season, earning the honors of being named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for the first time in his career. Derrick Rose was especially impressed. Having another star-caliber guard paired next to him is something that Rose has "been dying for" his entire career. In December, he notched a career-high 35 points against the New York Knicks in another stellar performance.

The biggest accomplishment of his entire career was when Butler, formerly a young teenager kicked out of his house jumping from house to house just struggling to find his way in a world that seemingly didn't want him to succeed, was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 2015. Butler was the clear front runner all season for the Most Improved Player award, an award he won later on in May. Once the playoffs rolled around, analysts wondered how Butler would perform under the immense pressure as a number one option in the playoffs against a top-tier defensive team in the Milwaukee Bucks. Out of the six games in that series, Butler set a playoff career-high for points on three occasions, cementing his offensive ability to his critics.

In the offseason, the Bulls offered Butler a max contract, worth over $95 million over five years. Not a bad payday for someone who was never supposed to succeed. Butler has been even better in the 2015-16 season. He notched a career-high in points (53), field goal attempts (30), free throws made (21) and free throws attempts (25) four days ago in an overtime victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, the most points a player on the Bulls since Jamal Crawford in 2004. Earlier in the season, Butler set a franchise record 40 points in one-half against the Toronto Raptors, almost singlehandedly willing the Bulls to victory in both contests (and many other contests as well).

Not only does Butler look like a lock to make the All-Star team once again this season, he honestly should be an All-Star starter; the only reason he might not be is that the fans decide on who starts. His play has also cemented himself as a top-5 candidate for the Most Valuable Player award this season, where most analysts have him pitted fifth (some sixth) in the race. Butler has gone from an athlete who's coaches didn't have faith in him in high school to the best player on an NBA franchise due to his sheer willpower. He's been set up for failure time after time, and he's powered through it and never let anything anyone did or said get under his skin. Butler's story is a remarkable and inspirational one, one that, if Butler continues playing the way he is currently, will cement him as a fan favorite around the league and cement his status among the NBA's elites.