CHICAGO — Jimmy Butler wore a big smile on his face throughout most of Friday.
The two-time All-Star beamed as future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade held his introductory news conference with the Chicago Bulls earlier in the day and made it abundantly clear that he was joining Butler’s team. A few hours later, Butler would get a big ovation as the first player introduced for U.S. men’s basketball team in its 80-45 rout over Venezuela. The fact that the 26-year-old shot only 2-for-8 from the field and scored only four points wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme. The fact that Butler, who was the 30th pick in the 2011 draft, was playing on the Olympic team in his adopted hometown and will soon go to Rio to represent his country, is still almost too good to be true for the Bulls’ star.
“Growing up I never thought that I would get drafted in the NBA,” Butler said. “Be a starter for the Bulls. Let alone represent my country with some of the best players in the world. It means the world to me and I want to win. I don’t want to say that I was a part of the USA team. I want to say that I was a part of the USA team and we won gold.”
Several times during his team’s brief stay in his hometown of Chicago, U.S. men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski has been open about the fact that he didn’t realize Butler had become this good of a player. Krzyzewski said he hadn’t seen Butler actually play live in several years, but once he did recently he saw the development in his game that has made him such an integral part of what the Bulls do in the future and Team USA does in the short term.
Butler’s unlikely path to the NBA has been well-documented and it’s what has helped draw some of his U.S. teammates even closer to him as they push closer to the Rio Games.
“I’m a huge fan of Jimmy’s,” U.S. point guard Kyrie Irving said. “Watching what he did for Chicago, really putting the team on his back, really propelled him into being a great NBA player now. And the story behind him, too, I mean you have no choice but to respect it. So what he’s come from, what he’s endured, his adversity and he’s just an even better person so I just enjoy being around him.”
Team USA stalwart Carmelo Anthony echoed those sentiments. Butler has built a name brand for himself in Chicago as one of the best two-way players in the league, but now he has to be a defensive force off the bench for a stacked American group that is intent on defending its basketball crown.
“I’m not surprised,” Anthony said of Butler’s development. “He works hard, man. Jimmy’s a workaholic. He’s in the gym all the time. He’s working; working on his game, working on his body. He’s getting the reps in the game, now he’s one of the premier guys on the Chicago Bulls, a go-to guy on that team. With his confidence and his work ethic it’s going to continue to grow.”
Butler is admittedly still trying to grow into his role as the leader of the Bulls, but on the U.S. men’s basketball team he’s just another guy trying to fit into a group overflowing with basketball riches. It’s another chapter in what is one of the most interesting basketball stories ever known.
“I just want to win,” Butler said. “In a Chicago Bulls uniform, in a USA uniform, that’s what I’ve always been about. All the individual stuff never really mattered. This is like home for me now, I’m glad that I got to play here for USA in front of my hometown crowd. They’ve embraced since day one, I hope they continue to do so. I want to win with the Bulls and I want to win with USA and bring a championship with the Bulls and a gold medal here.”