Jimmy Butler followed Dwyane Wade as Heat leader, wants to follow LeBron James as Heat championship addition

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So much of this season for Jimmy Butler has been about the passing of a torch and an embrace of Miami Heat culture.

For the past 12 months, it had been about moving into the space that Dwyane Wade vacated with his 2019 retirement. For these next two weeks, it sets up as an opportunity to fill the championship mantle that LeBron James abdicated with his 2014 move from the Heat back to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Tuesday, during media day at the NBA Finals, Butler spoke on the eve of Wednesday’s 9 p.m. opener against James and the Los Angeles Lakers of how just about everything in this first season with the Heat has felt like right team at the right time.

“I’m so comfortable with being myself more than I’ve ever been,” he said.

“These guys love me, love who I am, and it’s reciprocated towards those guys.”

It hasn’t always been that way for Butler, after tumultuous tours with the Chicago Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers. But just as James found his NBA footing when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Heat in 2010 free agency, winning titles in 2012 and ’13, Butler said he now feels a sense of championship-level direction.

For that, just as James did later during Tuesday’s interview sessions, he credited Heat president Pat Riley.

“Everything that I’ve heard, obviously, from D-Wade and just around the league, it’s everything I wanted to be a part of,” Butler said. “He’s the individual outside of basketball that everybody has said that he was, and definitely about winning and winning now. He’s definitely about that.

“He’s been a huge part in our success of putting this team together, expecting greatness out of each and every one of us, and putting us in a position to be great. So without him, without him putting this thing together, I wouldn’t be up here. We wouldn’t have this great group of guys that we have. So, we’re all very thankful for the Godfather.”

Now, with a vow not to let him down.

“Not going to say that we’re any better than anybody else,” Butler said, “but I just don’t think that we’re underdogs. I don’t. So what that nobody picked us to be here? That’s OK. Pretty sure nobody is picking us to win, either.”

In that respect, Butler could have chosen an easier path. Already with James and Anthony Davis under contract, the Lakers tried to pitch Butler on joining them in 2019 free agency. Instead, Butler took just the single meeting with the Heat, the face time with Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra closing the deal.

“When I was meeting with coach Spo, coach Pat, it just felt right in every aspect of it,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of good people here. Not to, saying that the Lakers don’t got a great bunch of good people.”

With the Lakers, it would have meant playing in support of James and Davis, as was the case last season in Philadelphia with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

With the Heat, he was told he would be an equal, and likely far more.

“I just get to be me here,” he said at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex, where these quarantine playoffs have been contested, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. “I get to call it how I see it. Nobody takes it personally. I don’t have to worry about anybody trying to control me.

“I’m glad to be where I am. As you can tell, it’s worked out. And that’s where I’ll leave it.”

When James arrived to the Heat in 2010, he already had experienced deep playoff runs, including losing in the 2007 Finals to the San Antonio Spurs. For Butler this all is new, having never previously even made it the conference finals.

“I think there’s a lot of nerves for a lot of people,” he admitted, “including myself.”

But doubts?

Not since signing on that dotted line on July 6, 2019 at AmericanAirlines Arena.

“I’m here now, and I belong here,” he said. “I’ve belonged here for a very long time.”


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