Has there ever been a better fit than Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat?


In his first moment in the limelight as a member of the Miami Heat last fall, Jimmy Butler failed.It’s the rigorous conditioning test the Heat put through to the players ahead of training camp that is a legend in the league. Some athletic coaches claim this is the most demanding test in any NBA or NFL.

For some players, it takes months to prepare.

To be admitted to training camp, a player must walk the court 10 times in less than a minute. Then two minutes of recovery. Then again. Two-minute recovery. Then again. And even. And even.

It’s so fierce that by the time he was a multiple-time champion, Dwyane Wade retired the rank and retired it every fall.

Just as Butler’s first try was due to begin, Pat Riley, team president and franchise sponsor, appeared on the sidelines. Butler saw it, his adrenaline rushed immediately.

For the first few laps, Butler flew through the drill. But in the fifth round, his back stiffened; he had gone too hard. When it was over, Butler had failed.

The next morning, Butler was up by 4 a.m., returning to the gym to get ready to try again. As he did so, he was almost afraid to look at his phone. He could see the headline: “Max $ 140 Million Player Fails Conditioning Test.” ”

It did not come. The heat kept silence; they didn’t want to shame him. They wanted to support him.

But his practices at 4 a.m. have become public. And a few days later, teammates joined him, tweeting their arrival at the gym at 3:30 a.m.

Butler has never felt so much at home.

It’s hard to explain how much Riley and head coach Erik Spoelstra love Butler. They’ve had a few players like this over the past 25 years.

Alonzo Mourning. Tim Hardaway. Patauger. Udonis Haslem.

But never did they fall faster or harder than they did for Butler, the type of uncompromising, team-oriented, pragmatic leader they would create in a lab if they could. Even Wade, who has taken on a sort of Captain Emeritus role, is struck.

« [Wade’s] still on my phone, telling me about the game, what to look for, “Butler said.” He’s helped me a lot. He’s the first person to text me tonight every time I go back to the locker room. ”

Spoelstra, who barely blinks or barely sleeps when he enters playoff mode, was stoic on the sidelines on Monday night. Riley, attending his first game in the Florida bubble, was seated on the top deck. But their hearts were probably leaping in their chests when they watched Butler score 15 points in the fourth quarter as the Heat beat the Milwaukee Bucks 115-104 to take a 1-0 lead.

“It adapts to everything about us, our fabric and who we are,” Spoelstra said. “These are extreme circumstances, they are not easy for anyone. And you need a level of discipline, structure, and camaraderie. Jimmy, despite what, probably, the narrative is out there, he’s a very nice guy in the locker room. , and I think it helps in a setting like this. ”

Let’s be clear. There are times when Butler disturbs his teammates, his coaches and his front office. And there are times when they do it to him. In the past, those moments have sometimes defined Butler.

Two teams traded him. Another, the Philadelphia 76ers, did not prioritize keeping it. It’s the CV of a companion, not a superstar.

The difference is that the Heat, led by Riley’s long-standing principles of team building, don’t mind a bit of friction. They even appreciate a reasonable dosage of it, because handling it and moving on is productive. Riley, and by extension Spoelstra, believe he can sharpen senses, deepen connections, and build trust.

The Heat played as a team that trusted Butler unconditionally in Game 1. Even though he had injured his shoulder late in the quarterfinals against the Indiana Pacers, he looked rested and healthy while pouring energy into both ends of the field, finishing with a record 40 points in the playoffs.

Defensively, Butler fought across screens, defied shots and chased Bucks all over the place. On offense, he challenged Milwaukee’s famed home defense, repeatedly throwing himself into the paint to catch fouls. Butler drew nine fouls and had 13 free throws, a vital part of the Heat game plan. Overall, the Heat beat the Bucks by 11 points on free throws.

The rest of Butler’s teammates, from rookie Tyler Herro to veteran Goran Dragic, fed on him. Their team’s defensive energy and loyalty to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s game plan of obstructing the traffic lanes worked.

In the fourth, it was a flood of Butler horsemen who slammed the door in the comeback victory. Relying on Butler to carry out such plans is not the best strategy; he had a relatively poor filming season. But the Heat know they can count on Butler for something every game, and he made all four of his field goal attempts out of the paint in the fourth quarter of Game 1, including his second 3 of the night.

Worrying about failing has long since left Butler’s mind.

“Confidence for us comes from what we do every day,” said Butler. “We work so hard, we practice like we are supposed to practice, we study cinema like we are supposed to study cinema. This is what we rely on every second of every game. There are no nerves in there because we are. confident that we are working to be good, not just good, great. So we have that in our corner. “


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