Throughout the 2023 NBA Playoffs, few players have been as statistically productive as Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler III. In the team's opening series as a No. 8 seed against the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks, Butler averaged 37.6 points per game en route to the Heat's 4-1 series win.
Against the New York Knicks, Butler averaged 24.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and six assists per game. Now, entering the Eastern Conference Finals, Butler had 35 points in Game 1 against the Boston Celtics. As you can see, Butler is a major catalyst in the Heat's playoff success this year despite their No. 8 seeding in the Eastern Conference.
Butler, 33, has been in the NBA since the 2011-12 season. Still, his background is something that, when examined, can help people appreciate his successes and accomplishments even more. The story of his biological mom and adoptive mom is a sad and remarkable one.
Who Are Jimmy Butler's Biological Parents?
Butler grew up in Tomball, Texas, right outside of Houston, with his biological mother, Londa Butler. Butler's father, Jimmy Butler II, wasn't someone he knew growing up; he left an infant Butler and Londa a few months after the future three-time NBA All-Defensive Team player was born.
During Jimmy Butler's youth, Londa Butler studied at Lone Star College in Texas. She had aspirations to become a medical office receptionist. Today, she works as a caregiver where Butler grew up.
With this on her plate and needing to care for a young son, Londa struggled to make ends meet.
When Butler was 13, Londa kicked Jimmy out of the house. In a 2011 interview with ESPN, Butler said that when he was kicked out, his mother's rationale was, "I don't like the look of you. You gotta go."
Jimmy Butler's Adoptive Parents Took Him In
Throughout the rest of his teenage years, Butler bounced around among various friends' houses.
One friend who was especially notable was Jordan Leslie, who at the time was a freshman at Tomball High School while Jimmy was becoming a senior.
Leslie challenged Butler to a 3-point shooting contest, leading the two to become friends. Butler would stay at Leslie's house — which consisted of Leslie, five of his siblings, Leslie's mother, Michelle Lambert, and a stepfather.
After a few months, Butler was a mainstay in Leslie's household.
"I told him my kids looked up to him," Lambert told ESPN. "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."
"They accepted me into their family," Butler said. "And it wasn't because of basketball. She was just very loving. She just did stuff like that. I couldn't believe it."
Happy Mother's Day to all #Moms!
— Dr. Marion Thorpe ?? (@MarionThorpe) May 14, 2023
The support of Michelle Lambert and the rest of Leslie's family helped Butler flourish, becoming the Tomball High School Cougars captain and averaging 19.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. But his success in high school didn't generate enough college interest for Butler, who didn't play Amateur Athletic Union basketball. He had a chance to compete as a walk-on at Mississippi State but had no scholarship offer.
So Butler headed to Tyler Junior College, where he dominated, routinely putting up 30-point games.
With success at the junior college level, Butler received offers from Marquette, Kentucky, Clemson, Mississippi State and Iowa. To help him sort through this was his adoptive mother, Lambert, who looked out for more than just basketball playing time.
"He had a lot of offers, but I was impressed by Marquette for academic reasons," she said. "That's a great academic school. I told him he should go there because basketball may not work out long-term. He needed a good education and a degree to fall back on."
Jimmy Butler Chose Marquette Because of Lambert
Joining Marquette University, Butler had to ride the bench for a bit. This frustrated Butler, so he would call Lambert and tell her he wanted to come home.
"Buzz [Williams] was tough," she said. "He had never had a man tell him 'no.' I did all the time. But often, his coaches just enabled him. It was another chance for him to mature."
Williams, the head coach of Marquette from 2008-2014 and who's now at Texas A&M, told ESPN, "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."
Coming off the bench for the Marquette Golden Eagles, Butler averaged 5.6 points per game while playing 19.6 minutes. To be fair, he was sitting behind star players such as Wes Matthews and Lazar Hayward.
By the time Butler's senior season hit, he averaged 15.7 points per game and was viewed as a scorer by NBA scouts. However, as we know now, Butler could do it all, including rebounds and assists.
While his statistics were great, Butler's defining moment during his senior year was when Lambert walked him out onto the court on senior night.
Jimmy Butler was homeless at 13. Michelle adopted him and gave him a home/love. He is now a NBA All-Star on the Bulls. Happy Mother's Day. pic.twitter.com/zmZb489X1J
— Bulls Nation (@BullsNationCP) May 14, 2017
"That night was a complete blur," Lambert said. "I cried the entire time. He had accomplished so much. I was both happy and proud. Everyone doubted him. His coach and principal in high school said he'd never amount to anything. And there he is, with the crowd cheering.
"But I was also sad and scared. Your baby is gone, and now he faces a horrible world. Jimmy always talks about what we did for him. I'm not sure he understands what he did for us. He changed our life, too. We are better people for having him in our family."
"We are all attached at the hip," Butler said. "I give her the credit for helping me become who I am. I love her. You would think that she gave me birth. I talk to her every morning. She's very loving. That's my family. That's Michelle Lambert. She is my mom."
As mentioned, NBA scouts were taking an interest in Butler.
"I saw him at a game versus Providence. He did everything," one NBA scout said. "He guarded Marshon Brooks. He was special. So many guys come into the NBA with role-player talent and think they're a star. I knew this kid could come in and fit right away on a good team. That's the appeal."
Jimmy Butler Doesn't 'Hold Grudges'
Butler, in his humble manner, wasn't aware he was an NBA prospect until after he was out of college.
Before getting drafted in the first round and 30th overall by the Chicago Bulls— the team of the greatest player of all time, Michael Jordan— Butler said, "It's taught me that anything is possible. My whole life, people have doubted me. My mom did. People told me in high school I'm too short and not fast enough to play basketball. They didn't know my story. Because if they did, they'd know that anything is possible. Who would've thought that a small-town kid would become a halfway decent player in college and now has a chance to be drafted in the NBA? That's my chip. That's what motivates me. I know I can overcome anything if I just take everything one day [at a] time."
Before the 2011 NBA Draft, Lambert had some remarks about Butler that, in hindsight, make Butler's dominance even more special today.
"I hope someone gives him a chance," Lambert said, trying to fight back tears. "No one gave him a chance. I guess we did, and look what happened. He finally had someone to make [proud of him]. If an NBA team gives him a chance, he'll do the world for them. That's what he did for me."
Fast-forward to 2015. By this point, Butler had played in the league for a few years; and during the 2014-15 season, he had his first season in which he averaged 20 points per game.
In October 2015, Butler had an interview with Chicago Magazine in which he said he hated bringing up the past.
"I hated it whenever it came up because that's all anybody ever wanted to talk about. Like, that hasn't gotten me to where I am today. I'm a great basketball player because of my work. I'm a good basketball player because of the people I have around me. And if I continue to be stuck in the past, then I won't get any better. I won't change; I'll get stuck as that kid. That's not who I am. I'm so far ahead of that. I don't hold grudges. I still talk to my family. My mom. My father. We love each other. That's never going to change."
Jimmy Butler is on the precipice of winning his first ever ring, and it took a village to get him here.
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