Three Years Into His Time With The Miami Heat, Jimmy Butler Is Ready To Crush Everything (Including A Game Of Punchbuggy)

Jimmy Butler
SHOES: Blu Scarpa
WATCH: Tag Heuer

Photo Credit: Edwin Jean & Theo Smith


IT’S BEEN THREE YEARS SINCE I FIRST ENCOUNTERED JIMMY BUTLER, before he had even officially donned his No. 22 Miami Heat jersey, and in that time, much has changed — in his life, and in general (hello, we’re living through a pandemic). But one thing definitely has not: his desire to win.

Anyone who knows the six-time NBA All-Star knows that I’m not just talking about basketball: he needs to excel at everything.
I mean, things change, and this could have too, I suppose. But a fairly recent conversation with his close friend Alexander “Sascha” Zverev reassured me that it hadn’t. The German tennis champion served up a description of legendary guys’ nights at Butler’s South Miami pad that revolve around fine wine, poker, Padel, dominos, and a lot of losing (on his part, and that includes the games, money, and self-respect, from the sound of it).

The gauntlet Zverev throws down is this: the house always wins because the house makes up the rules as he goes along. (“The house” here, if you didn’t get it already, is Jimmy.) But then, who can really know the truth, especially when the story involves two fiercely competitive professional athletes who refuse to see themselves as losers in any situation? Butler says as much now, recalling a conversation they had over the summer. “I picked up the phone and said, ‘Hey Sash, what’s up?’ He was like, ‘Remember when I whooped your ass at cards?’ I was like, ‘I actually don’t remember that. I remember me whooping your ass at cards.’ This is the brotherhood that we have — we don’t really care how each other’s doing. We just gotta remind each other who’s better.”

He’s kind of joking, and also kind of not, but one thing is true: despite their desire to be the best, theirs is a true friendship. “That’s my guy right there, that’s my guy. And he can hoop, I’ve got to give him credit,” he says. Which is nice, right? But then: “I can’t wait for him to come play tennis at my house. [The rules are going to be that] you must play with your feet; you cannot play with your hands. I will win at all costs. That’s why I love Sascha so much — because he doesn’t back down from any challenge. Like, he thinks he can actually beat me at basketball, and I think I can beat him at tennis; this is the battle that we constantly have. We can’t go three sentences without it turning into a competition every single time he calls me.”

What I know is this: even though Zverev is currently the ATP’s #6 world-ranked player, Butler spent his summer taking tennis lessons, among many other things, so watch this space. I also know that Butler has zero shame about his game, and that Zverev’s “the house always wins” analysis was correct. “That’s how you’re supposed to do it. Those are the house rules, and the house rules are always catered to make me win. Like, that’s a given,” he declares.

So yeah, the 33-year-old basketball star is all about putting in the hard work, but he’s not above making up illogical, Mad Hatter-style games with fluid rules to get the end result, either. Same-same, but different. “People will come up with anything and make up anything to find a way to say that I did not win. So they’ll say, ‘You changed all the rules, he creates the rules as he goes along,’” he says, innocently enough. Cue the fake halo now. “But it’s not documented, and if it is documented, I’m the one that documented it. So, as far as I can tell, I play a fair game. I just always win. That’s how you’ve got to do it.”

Fair or foul, Butler gets the job done. His track record with the Heat is living proof: in his first year, he helped lead the Heat to the NBA Finals, and in the 2021-2022 season, he led them all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals — before a heartbreaking game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics.

But the past is the past, and Butler is all about the future, eagerly anticipating the opportunity to dominate on the court once again. And come October 19th — the Heat’s first game of the regular season, against the Chicago Bulls — he’ll get that chance.
He says now, “I’ve had lots of rest, lots of recovery, lots of working out. Like I tell everybody, I work on everything in the off-season; I don’t think anybody is surprised by what I do on the basketball floor. This is about maintaining, finding ways to make myself better, and, more importantly, making my teammates better, making them more comfortable, and more confident, because I’m always going to need those guys.”

He expounds on this sentiment, saying, “It’s a blessing to be able to wake up and just hoop every day. Like, that’s my job, but not really my job, because I really love the opportunities that I have, the players I get to share the floor with, the coach I get to play for, the management, the ownership. It’s fun for me. I get excited to wake up and do this every day. I’m excited by the opportunity that we have ahead of us. The guys are ready. I mean, PJ Tucker is a traitor… I hate you PJ Tucker! I’m kidding, that’s my guy,” he jokes of his friend and former team member, who left the Heat to play with the Philadelphia 76ers, adding, “But seriously, I think we’ve got a really good opportunity to become a championship caliber team.”

Tucker’s departure aside, the Heat are in a good position to contend again this year, with the strength of returning players like Kyle Lowry, Bam Adebayo, Victor Oladipo, and Tyler Herro. And Butler, it should go without saying, all 6’7” of his six-time NBA All-Star, 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist, five-time All-Defensive Team selection, four-time All-NBA Team honoree self.
As Butler says of both his teammates and his fans: “We’ve got some hard-working mother-effers down here in Miami that just love to win, love to have fun, and love that sunshine. That’s how the Miami people are, and that’s me for you in a nutshell,” he declares. “[That’s why] I want to finish my career here. I want to bring a championship here, as I say time and time again. I’m not going anywhere.”

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t place my bets against him (or his $184 million, four-year contract extension): the odds, after all, are in his favor.

Jimmy Butler
SHOES: Blu Scarpa
WATCH: Tag Heuer

Photo Credit: Edwin Jean & Theo Smith

NOW, LET’S TALK ABOUT HOW Jimmy Butler has changed — because truly, he has.

But to understand this change, we need to rewind a beat, go back in time. The year is 2019, pre-pandemic. I meet Butler, then freshly 30, at a swanky hotel in London’s upscale Knightsbridge neighborhood. He’s living there for the summer, using it as a launchpad for his global adventures. He’s young, hungry to win, and hell-bent on soaking up as much experience as possible: imbibing in Bordeaux, enjoying a feeding frenzy in Venice, learning how to samba in Rio de Janeiro. He’s full of fire to make it rain for the Heat in Miami.

But then, his daughter was born — and his life changed completely.

“I literally became a dad on opening night of my first year here, and so my life has taken a turn for the better. Honestly, I don’t think it can get any better than this,” he insists on a sunny Saturday morning in September, ten days after his 33rd birthday, and three before the start of training camp at Baha Mar in the Bahamas. “Now, I’m in dad mode any time I’m not in between all four lines on the basketball court.” (I mean, he did just return from a big ass birthday trip in Europe, living it up in Switzerland and France, but I see his point.)

What that involves is a lot of love, a lot of patience, and a lot of coffee. Right now, for example, it’s 11 a.m. and he’s on his fourth cup. And if you think that’s a lot, wait for it — he’s usually drinks up to ten a day.

“I need it. I need it,” he declares. “I’m telling you, you don’t know my child. My child is a handful and a half. I’m surprised that she’s not out here throwing something at the back of my head right now. That’s literally my daughter. And she’ll laugh and lie to you and say she didn’t do it. Like, it’s bad. So come to think of it, I probably need 32 cups of coffee.”

Is this learned behavior, I wonder. Unapologetically, even proudly, he confirms it probably is. “I definitely throw stuff at her while she’s watching TV, and then I’ll point at my brother or at her mom or whoever else,” he admits.

Another learned behavior is perhaps his biggest struggle. Fatherhood, more than anything, has taught him that he needs to watch is mouth, lest someone try to wash it out with soap. “[Being a parent has mostly taught me] that I need to watch what I say, because I say a lot of bad words on the daily, and I don’t realize it, but it’s because I’m normally in a competitive environment or somebody’s getting on my nerves. It’s like, my daughter’s not paying attention to anything until somebody says bad words. You can say every word in the English dictionary and she won’t repeat it until she hears the ones you’re not supposed to say. It’s like her brain knows. She gets me every single time.”

When he makes this statement, there’s a certain kind of quiet glee to it. He’s proud of his daughter for the bad as much as the good. After all, she’s a total chip off the old block. “My daughter is literally a sponge,” he boasts. “She says everything I do, she eats like I eat. She even drinks coffee with me — when I’m sitting down having coffee in the morning, we’ll make her a baby ‘cino with strawberry milk. She’ll sit and work with dada for a couple of hours, try to be part of the grown folks’ conversation, and act like she knows what’s going on. She doesn’t, but she still drinks her version of coffee with me every single morning.”
So maybe his time in the Magic City didn’t transpire exactly the way he anticipated, but as you can probably tell, 3-year-old Rylee is literally the light of his life, and she, more than anything, has made Miami home for him.

“I get to meet so many different people doing so many different things here. Whether it’s continuously exploring my love for coffee, or getting to be a dad, I’m making friends. I get to take my baby to the zoo, and to all the different museums.” He pauses. “And I’ve got special love for Miami, because this is where I really started to be a dad.”

Jimmy Butler
WATCH: Tag Heuer
SHOES: Li-Ning

Photo Credit: Edwin Jean & Theo Smith

As a father, he’s getting to see a different side of the city that he likely wouldn’t have otherwise. After all, Miami is a glamorous location for gorgeous people, with some of the world’s best nightclubs. There’s a sultry, hedonistic quality to it that athletes tend to gravitate to. But not Butler. To be fair, he says, “Even before I had a daughter, I didn’t really get a chance to see that side of it, either. Now, I just try to stay out of the way to the best of my ability.”

Despite that, the city is a part of him. “Miami is definitely home now,” he says. “I feel like I’ve really grown to love this city, and my life has definitely taken a turn for the better here. Honestly, I don’t think it can get any better than this. Obviously, the weather always helps, and being able to do what I love for a living, being able to hoop, that helps, too. I really love it here.”

The biggest personal challenge, he thinks, is separating Jimmy Buckets the player from Jimmy Butler the dad — finding the balance between work life and home life. “Separating the two is the one thing I really, really tried to focus on this offseason,” he admits. “What I found is that, when it’s time to give your all to being an athlete, do that. And then when it comes to being your everyday dad, be that, and let the basketball stuff go. And that was that — working on that switch, turning it on and off. Because sometimes, when I’m with my daughter, all I can think about is like, man, we’ve got to get back in the gym at 7 a.m. But then it’s like, man, you’ll always be able to get back to the gym. Honestly, that’s what it is. I work hard enough as it is, but I really have to master hey, it’s daddy time; when you’re with your baby, let basketball take care of itself.”

Jimmy Butler
WATCH: Tag Heuer

Photo Credit: Edwin Jean & Theo Smith

CHALK IT UP TO THE LOVE of his daughter, a summer of fun, or all that Floridian sunshine, but whatever it is, Jimmy Butler is happy.

He says as much now. “Man, I’m in a really, really good headspace. I’m so comfortable with me being me. I don’t care what I do with my hair, I don’t care what I put on. I mean look, my guys are good. My family’s good, my baby’s good. I’m so happy, and so fortunate to be around and work alongside the people I get to work with. I literally have no complaints. I’m a kid from Texas playing for the Miami Heat on the highest level. I wouldn’t change where I’m at for the world.”

Let’s recap where Jimmy Butler is at, right now, at this specific moment in time. He is raising a mini-me, has one hell of a contract, unparalleled support of his fans, an ambassadorship with Swiss timepiece brand Tag Heuer, and an exciting and successful new business venture in BIGFACE Coffee, a brand born out of the 2020 NBA Bubble. Who can forget that he turned beans into lattes, as it were, operating his own “coffee shop” out of his hotel room with an espresso machine he brought from home? (And that he charged his fellow NBA players $20 for the luxury?)

I feel like he may need something stronger than coffee if his mini-me does become more and more like her dear old dad, and recall from our former chat that he has a deep and abiding love of wine. That still exists, he promises, though he has no intention of starting his own label or opening a café anytime soon: he’s too focused on the present to think about retiring to pursue other passions quite yet.

“Don’t ever get that confused — I still love my wine, but to me, coffee is a lot like wine. I have the same conversations over wine that I have over coffee now, and it could be any time of the day, too. Like, if I want to, I’ll drink a glass at 7 am, and so what? It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, so they say. But really, coffee is the same process as wine — there’s a story to tell. There’s so many people that help make a bottle come to life. The same thing goes for coffee — the farmers that are harvesting the product all the different type of washes, the altitude, the amount of rain… it’s literally the same as wine. I think that’s why I’m so intrigued by it, because no matter how much you know, you can never know enough, and you can never know everything.”

Maybe he has changed. Then again, maybe not. He tells me that right now, his focus is on learning how to create latte art… for one very important reason. “I got into latte art so I can be better than everybody at everything. So for all the baristas out there that think you’re better than me at latte art, I’ll show you in a couple of years. I’m on the way!”

As for wine, well, that’s coming. “That’s in the future,” he says. “I want to win a championship first. I want to keep the main thing the main thing. I think there’s plenty of time to be able to do all of that after my career or towards the end of my career, but I’ve got a lot of basketball left. I’ve got a lot of winning left, and I’ve got a lot of things that I still want to do. I’ve got plenty of years left to be at the top of my game and help Miami win a championship.”

I can tell Butler needs to get back to his daughter; though she hasn’t thrown anything at him yet, she will, he promises. But as we prepare to sign off, he abruptly declares, “It’s a good thing I can’t see you right now, because I know there’s a punchbuggy somewhere out there. And I’ll definitely see it before you saw it.”

I reminded him earlier in our call that he’d actually done this to me, in person. When we first met a few years ago, he surprised me out of the blue by playing ye olde punch buggy game. I was not prepared, caught completely unawares. Of course, he won. There are very few old VW Beatles speeding through the streets of Knightsbridge, after all.

But now, with the safety of Zoom between us, I feel bold. “Well, the next time I see you, I’m going to get one over on you,” I retort.

He clicks his tongue, and says with a tsk, “I promise you, that’s never going to happen. I’m always on the lookout.”

I think about it for less than a second, and tell him, that if I was a betting woman (and I am), I would say he was probably right.
“See?” he says. “I’m already winning. Think about that.”

I’ve got to say, there’s definitely a comfort in consistency.

Jimmy Butler
SHOES: Blu Scarpa
WATCH: Tag Heuer

Photo Credit: Edwin Jean & Theo Smith