Rags to Riches: The Story of Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler playing in college
Assembled by Ryan Taylor.
NBA Forces Jimmy Butler to Change Jersey At Last Minute
Media by Miami Heat.

True success is not something that comes easy. A person must work and fight for it, and regardless of one’s situation, as long as one has sight of what it is they want to accomplish, it is obtainable. Jimmy Butler is currently one of the biggest names in professional sports, and he is well known for his true grit and tremendous work. Butler is currently the highest paid player on the Miami Heat roster, and every penny he is receiving is well deserved.

Although money is currently no concern for the NBA superstar, this was not always the case. At the young age of 13, Butler’s mother kicked him out of their home in Tomball, Texas, and he was forced to live alone on the street. With no father figure in sight, Butler began the quest for safe places to lay his head at night. He was allowed to stay with friends but only for very short periods of time. As his senior year of high school approached, Butler realized just how much of a safe haven the game of basketball truly was for him, and he began to take the game very seriously. At this time, Butler still did not have a stable home, but that would soon change. During the winter of Butler’s senior year, he became close friends with a younger student athlete on campus, Jordan Leslie. As it turns out, the two had more in common aside from basketball; they were both from the same city in Texas. As their friendship grew, Butler became a “regular” in the the Leslie household. Although Michelle Leslie hesitated at first, she soon realized just how much her children looked up to Jimmy, and with much convincing from her little ones, she agreed to let him stay for good. “I told him my kids looked up to him, he had to stay out of trouble. Work hard in school. He had to set an example. And you know what? Jimmy did it. Anything I asked him to do, he did it without asking questions,” Leslie shared with “HoopsToday” when asked about Butler in an interview.

Miami Heat: Jimmy Butler would call out Jimmy Butler for Game 5 effort
Media by Miami Heat.

As his senior season began to come to a close, Butler had the talent but lacked the interest of college coaches. This is primarily due to the fact that many schools and coaches recruit athletes during AAU season, and Butler never had an opportunity to join an AAU team. Despite this disadvantage, he refused to stop chasing his dream of playing basketball at the highest level possible, and he made the decision to temporarily play at a junior college that was down the road from the Leslie home. With his consistent hunger for success and determination for a scholarship, Butler destroyed nearly every opposing team in front of him, scoring 30 points on multiple occasions and even an occasional 40 points. His hard work forced Division 1 schools to take notice, and scholarships began to pour in from all over the country from universities like Kentucky, Marquette, Clemson, Mississippi State and even Iowa State. With much thought and guidance from his new mother figure, Butler signed his National Letter of Intent to join the men’s basketball program at Marquette University on a full scholarship.

Throughout his first 3 years, Butler struggled tremendously. Part of his struggle was due to the fact that he had just graduated from a high school and junior college where he was the best player. He grew accustomed to being the first string scoring option, but at Marquette, he did not realize that this would not be the case for a while. Butler was no stranger to hard work and fighting for the success he desired. Marquette head coach, Buzz Williams, recognized this and pushed Butler even harder than any other man on the team’s roster. In an interview with “HoopsToday,” Williams said, “I’ve never been harder on a player than I’ve been on Jimmy. I was ruthless on him because he didn’t know how good he could be. He’d been told his whole life he wasn’t good enough. What I was seeing was a guy who could impact our team in so many ways.” With this extra motivational fire burning in his heart, Butler became an impactful contributor to the team and averaged 16 points per game to close out his collegiate career. He then went on to become drafted to the NBA by the notorious Chicago Bulls in 2011 as the 30th pick of the first round. When asked about his story during his draft day interview, the humble Jimmy Butler stated, “It’s taught me that anything is possible, my whole life, people have doubted me… they didn’t know my story. Because if they did, they’d know that anything is possible.”

Among the student body of Greenville University, there are many athletes who have personal stories of inspiration. Stories that push and motivate the athlete to fight and grind as hard as possible to reach their desired success. When reflecting on how he uses his story to motivate him, Dustin Bankowski, a senior point guard and team captain at GU, explained, “I consider my story to be my why. It is why I fight through pain and soreness in workouts. It is why I allow nothing to stand in my way of reaching my goals. My story ignites this fire within me that only allows me to move forward.”

Media by Miami Heat.

There is an old saying that many people live by that claims “there is always light at the end of the tunnel.” No matter how dark the tunnel may be in the moment, as long as the fight and determination to succeed are always present, the light can and will be found. With Butler’s story, it is clear that even when the odds are against you, anything is possible.


  1. NICE article. I have never heard of this athlete before. His life story was interesting. It kept me reading. I would like to know more, lime what is his status now, what charities has he started, how is Mr Butler giving back.
    Good work.

  2. Very informative and interesting. This article was almost like an autobiography. I enjoy stories about determination and overcoming obstacles. Great Job Ty Jelks. Can’t wait to read your next article. Two thumbs-up!

  3. Great article!! I never knew his back story. Very inspirational and definitely a story that should be shared with any one of any age who could use an inspiring story to keep them motivated and determined. This was awesome!


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