Abe Beame wrote these bars with Will Smith’s “Miami” on repeat.
What determines value in a late Capitalist economy? The dollar has been divorced from the gold standard for nearly a century, now you can make crypto tokens with a blockchain and they could be worth pennies or hundreds of dollars. A gallon of milk can be less than four dollars or more than ten, depending on the farm, neighborhood and grocery you buy it from. The imagined value of companies are traded with lightning speed on Wall Street, managed by algorithms and seemingly arbitrary in how they fluctuate up and down. In fact, there is only one value on Earth that is certain and absolute, and that is the value that Miami Heat (small?) forward Jimmy Butler III has placed on himself. Jimmy Butler has never had a moment of doubt when it comes to what he’s worth, or what he’s not worth. For your consideration, a timeline of Jimmy Butler Against the Machine:
Jimmy Butler III was one of 7 kids, but has no brothers or sisters and because he ate all of his siblings as a child. There was no Jimmy Butler Junior or Senior before him, it’s an expression of value, he initially considered Jimmy Butler squared, but that wasn’t enough.
Jimmy Butler is worth more than a spot in the rotation at Tyler Junior College, the first team he demanded his way out of. He grew up in Tomball, Texas and began playing college basketball in Tyler ,Texas before transferring to Marquette, where he played three years.
Jimmy Butler’s is not worth the 30th pick in the NBA Draft, where he was selected by the Bulls In 2011. It was a draft that saw the likes of Brandon Knight, Bismack Biyombo, Jimmer Fredette, and Nikola Mirotic taken before him. He remembered every name. Today, you’d probably take him fourth (or second if you’re a Celtics or Clippers fan).
Jimmy Butler is not worth a rookie scale contract. In 2011 he made $821,748. In 2012 he made $1,066,920. In 2013 he made $1,112,880. And in 2014 he made $2,008,748. As a rookie he averaged 8.5 minutes a game. In the final year of that deal it was 38.7 (good for first in the league). In those first four seasons, he increased his scoring average from 2.6 points per game to 20. He increased his 3 point percentage from 18% to 37%. He made his first All Star Team as a reserve and was named Most Improved Player in the league.
Jimmy Butler is not worth the $92.3 million dollar five year extension he signed with the Bulls in 2015. For two seasons, he established himself as a perennial All-Star averaging 20 points a night. His contract was immediately considered a bargain, and for a time, the hottest trade chip in the league. He was a holdover from the Thibodeau era, a coach that matched his philosophy and outlook on life in step. After Thibs parted, the Bulls went from a promising contender to a, uh, something under Fred Hoiberg with Jimmy and a washed duo of Rajon Rondo and Dwayne Wade. Jimmy did not exactly warm to Hoiberg’s laidback, player friendly style.
— Chris Kuc (@ChrisKuc) December 20, 2015
Jimmy Butler is not worth Kris Dunn, Zach Levine, and Lauri Markkanen. That’s the package the Timberwolves sent to the Bulls in exchange for him on Draft night, 2017 (In a recurring theme over the next few years, Butler would become a hot potato for teams who weren’t sure they wanted to get stuck paying the max that was a certainty once this deal expired). The Bulls were a middling 41-41 with Jimmy the season before. Without him, they went 27-55, a difference of 14 games. In Minnesota, despite being reunited with a coach who is decidedly not laid back, he was teamed with two young “stars” in Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, who did not share his work ethic. The Wolves struggled without Jimmy who missed 17 games down the stretch, barely made the playoffs, and suffered a gentlemen’s sweep at the hands of the Houston Rockets. And what’s worse, the Wolves devalued him. They didn’t offer Jimmy the supermax he wanted. They couldn’t, because they had most of their cap tied up in…….. Andrew Wiggins.
That offseason was one of the most entertaining in memory, as Jimmy sniped with Wolves ownership and the young talent on social media. Here’s a direct shot at Wiggins:
Jimmy hit 'em with that 🙌🏿
— Dunk Bait (@DunkBait) September 20, 2018
Before the start of the next season, Jimmy came back and waged war against the Wolves starters in a now legendary practice, beating them in a scrimmage with third stringers and yelling expletives at management. Here’s a clip:
Jimmy Butler is not worth Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a second round pick. That’s the package The 76ers sent to Minnesota in exchange for him at the beginning of the 2018 season. The Timberwolves went from 47-35 in 2018 to 36-46 their first season without him. A difference of 11 games. He did not fare much better in Philly. There was friction with Brett Brown, another nice, passive coach potentially out of his depth. There were issues with Jimmy’s role in the offense, and if I had to guess, Jimmy was not a huge fan of his moody, aloof young star teammates. With his second contract finally up, it was time for Jimmy to be compensated as the superstar he is, and you’ll never guess this, but Jimmy would settle for nothing less than as much as possible. Philly said no thanks, and when a suitor came calling, Jimmy was happy to oblige them.
Jimmy Butler is not worth Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson, and Al Horford (and just for fun, let’s throw in Maurice Harkless). That’s the four team trade that got Jimmy to Miami, and finally, the max 142 million dollar four year deal he’d been waiting for. Many pundits scoffed at Jimmy Butler, the guy who “just wanted to win”, taking a cynical cash grab to join a capped out squad in the purgatory of Eastern Conference mediocrity.
With Jimmy Butler, the 6ers finished 51-31 in 2019, good for 3rd in the East, where Jimmy led them to a few Kawhi Leonard bounces from the Eastern Conference Finals. Without him, they went 43-30 in a plague shortened season, good for 6th in the East, where without Ben Simmons, and probably even with Ben Simmons, they were beaten soundly in the first round by the Boston Celtics. The Heat, sans Whiteside, bested their win total from the prior season in February. They placed 5th in the East. They dismantled the top seed Bucks, which is the very thing the 6ers supposedly got rid of Jimmy in favor of Josh Richardson and Al Horford to be able to do. They are currently battling the Celtics for a trip to the NBA Finals. Here’s a clip of Jimmy guarding Giannis in the semis:
So finally, we can perhaps get around to discussing just what it is that makes Jimmy Butler so fucking valuable. And of course, the answer is complicated. Is he a good shooter? Well yeah, sure, he’s fine. Not a knockdown guy from anywhere really, but you have to guard him. Is he physically imposing? No, not really. He’s listed at 6’7, 230. He’s a great defender but that doesn’t have much to do with his size. He’s incredibly strong but he doesn’t impose in the way that would naturally make him a matchup nightmare. Is he fast, or at least quick? Well, he’s not slow. The truth is, there are plenty of athletes in the league and out of the league who have all of Jimmy Butler’s physical attributes. Is he an elite passer? An elite rebounder? Well no, not elite, but particularly for his position, he’s top 5 in most categories.
There weren’t 2s or 3s like Jimmy Butler when I was a kid, or really even now. He plays bigger than a typical 6’7 3, smaller than tweener 4s like Charles Oakley, or Anthony Mason. But to say he plays one way would be dishonest, Jimmy Butler is water, he fills the container of the problem an opponent presents. This is his dark magic. And this might be the reason he had so much trouble finding a team willing to pay for what he’s worth. He doesn’t have the obvious str player skillset a GM can point out to their owner or fanbase that explains why they’d be willing to commit future defining resources to him. He simply has one of the most well rounded games in the league, there are virtually no holes, for one very big reason.
Jimmy Butler’s single elite skill is desire. He leads this league, really every professional sports league on Earth in it. No players since, *deep breath* Jordan and Kobe so clearly convey that basketball is a game of will. That to a certain extent, once you’ve attained a certain level of athleticism, this sport isn’t so much defined by physical dominance or skill, but how much of your life you’re willing to sacrifice in pursuit of complete and total victory. And folks, you’ve never wanted anything in your life as much as Jimmy Butler wants a rebound in the second quarter of a preseason game. He’s equal parts evil and tenacious, with an ineffable knack for big moments. If you believe this sentiment is hyperbolic, allow me to direct you to one of several Rise of Skywalker like Reddit conspiracy threads theorizing Michael Jordan is, in fact, Jimmy Butler’s father.
Everything Jimmy has as a player he got from his maniacal work ethic. He made himself a good shooter, he’s a good rebounder because human beings get tired, but he doesn’t. He’s a good passer because I’ve watched tens of thousands of movies in my life, and I’m older than Jimmy Butler, but I haven’t spent a tenth of the time he has studying film. He’s a self made man, but not in the bootstraps sense, he’s like an android constantly removing and altering pieces of his body. To no one’s surprise, his two best friends are Antonio Brown and Mark Wahlberg. Here’s a copy of an offseason workout regiment Jimmy gave to Mark.
The articulation of his iron will is best expressed by consistent ability to get to the line. Theoretically, anyone with Jimmy Butler’s physical gifts could get to the free throw line whenever they want. And yet, Paul George doesn’t. This is because getting to the basket isn’t fun. The repetitive, exhausting physical exertion is something that doesn’t just drain your body, it’s mentally daunting. And yet, Jimmy Butler has literally never settled for a jump shot. He doesn’t go hunting for fouls with crafty moves or misdirection, he just slams his body into anyone stupid enough to get in front of him with abandon. If you lined the restricted area with a 10 foot tall barbed wire fence in the middle of a meaningless game with the Heat down big, he’d jump into it face first to draw the whistle and chip into your lead at the line.
His value is his fearlessness. This season’s iteration of the rudderless 6ers showed us why he’s so important. Even with a coach who could barely stand to look at him, the team recognized last season they needed him to be their catalyst and force the issue when playoff basketball grinds the game to a halfcourt slog, and he delivered. It seems like the dumbest and easiest quality to find in the world, but Jimmy is a confidence man in the best possible way. He proves that for some, the biggest obstacle to being a great player is deciding to be one.
In the Bubble, other players warmed our hearts, reuniting with their spouses and children in tunnels. Who can resist the darling asides of precious little Deuce Tatum fiddling with an iPad on the sidelines while daddy plays in the big game? It’s a reminder of the enormous emotional toll this must take on these human beings, separated from their loved ones for months. I spoke to Kaitlin Nowak, the mother of Jimmy Butler’s child in preparation for this piece, and she told me she’s attempted to call Jimmy several times so he can see his daughter, (Rylee!) but he hasn’t picked up or called back.
Jimmy Butler is the only player who signed to the Heat in spite of the weather and amenities. Chicago in the dead of winter was too pleasant for him. He felt most at home in Minnesota, where he still lives by himself in a small cabin that doesn’t have electricity or running water in the offseason. Jimmy Butler visited New York City once, and spent his few weeks there singling out random strangers and killing them in strange and disturbing ways that each evoked one of the seven deadly sins.
His sadism matches Pat Riley’s upstate hardscrabble ethos perfectly. The entire Heat organization, from Riley to Spoelstra to Butler’s friend Goren Dragic, (a bond built on both being fugitive war criminals) to Duncan Robinson and Jae Crowder, all share unlikely, circuitous, Dickensian routes to the league. They were all desperate to get here, and they play like a team terrified to go home. The Heat led the NBA this season in points off of cuts, and by that I mean points enabled by discreetly stabbing defenders. Here’s some footage of the team bonding in camp before the 2019 season began:
Jimmy has never looked so at home. He doesn’t press his offense in Miami. He’s sacrificed every bit of his vanity and planted himself as the conduit the offense runs through rather than its full time initiator. He’s deferential and unselfish, and this season, with his money (and pride) finally appeased, he’s been quiet and generous. It turns out all you need to make Jimmy Butler happy is a year round boot camp atmosphere with BMI indexes and drills that make you dive, gather loose balls in bounds, turn, shoot a 3 pointer, than run to the opposite corner of the court to do the same thing over and over again
There is a dynamism to his game now, a supple quality. It lacks the forceful hard determinism of his youth. He’s become an uncommonly generous point forward who is also technically his uncommonly egalitarian team’s first option. This season Jimmy averaged six assists a game, a career high. The greatest indictment of Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony Towns, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid is how much Jimmy Butler loves Bam Adabayo. But to settle Jimmy into a minivan would be a mistake. Is there any NBA athlete you would want to fight less than Jimmy Butler?
(So this is real, Jimmy Butler was once in a country music video with some asshole named Luke Bryan. Here’s my theory: On one hand, it’s a dog whistle for the Jimmy Butler truthers out there because the empty gym this idiot who had to have voted for Trump is singing in is a direct reference to the gym Michael Jackson is singing in with Michael Jordan in the “Jam” video. And secondly, he did it so the more resourceful shit talkers will throw it in his face during games, creating an incentive for him to give even more fucks on a nightly basis. Far fetched, but I wouldn’t put it past him.)
It turns out Jimmy Butler Is worth a max contract in an organization that shares his core values, surrounded by teammates who work hard, take no shit and won’t shy from the spotlight when it gets bright and hot. It is entirely conceivable that Jimmy Butler is worth the 2020 NBA Championship. The Heat, and most importantly, Jimmy Butler, would agree it’s a good deal.