ew pro athletes have overcome more than Jimmy Butler. Homeless by 13. Unrecruited out of high school. Played ball at a small junior college. Landed at Marquette. Came off the bench till his junior year. Slid to 30th in the draft. Didn’t start as a rookie. Spent years banging his head against the wall in Minnesota. Today, he’s known as “Jimmy Buckets,” one of the best clutch players in the NBA who’s guided his Miami Heat to two Finals appearances. He’s a six-time All-Star and Olympic gold medalist. Plus, he makes the best damn cup of joe in the league.
The native of Tomball, Texas, is also a massive country music fan who’s spent the past several years recording dozens of songs with some of the top country artists. He says he has enough tracks for at least two albums and can’t wait to show the country music world what he’s made of. Given his track record, you’d be foolish to doubt him.
Butler spoke with Rolling Stone about everything from his country music turn to fatherhood.
[This interview was conducted before the Damian Lillard trade.]
What have been the highlights of your offseason “Unexpected Tour?”
There you go! “The Unexpected Tour” was just of China and being able to go over there and witness the amount of love that I have with the fans there. I have so much love for that country. It’s just incredible to know that somebody even knows my name on that side of the world. But the best thing is I’ve been able to grow my dad skills. I’m getting really good at this dad thing.
What dad skills have you learned?
I’m now teaching my daughter to hit a tennis ball, which is very important in my household. I’m teaching her to compete and never accept losing. I’m getting good at making oatmeal — I can mix some fruit and stuff in there. I got to take my babies to Legoland, and they were going absolutely nuts. And the fans there were going more nuts. My daughter doesn’t know I’m quote-unquote “famous,” she just doesn’t like when I take pictures with strangers. She’s like, “Don’t talk to strangers!” And I’m like, “That’s good — that’s exactly what I tell you.”
I know you’re a big soccer fan. What’s it like having Messi in Miami, and did you help recruit him?
I absolutely had no say in Messi coming to Miami. I’m grateful that he’s there so the fans and the people get to see one of the greatest football talents of all time. I’m a huge football fan and I hope I get the opportunity to watch a match and witness greatness. I was hoping Neymar would come join him because then I’d be in hog heaven. Hopefully they’ll bring a championship in football there, and I know a team that plays basketball there that would love a championship as well.
You could maybe get on the field and kick the ball around with Messi.
No. I like to stay in my lane and don’t like when people outdo me in certain things, and I just have this gut feeling that Messi is way better than me at soccer, and I don’t want to showcase that.
A lot of dudes come back from the offseason out of shape. But not you. You stay vigilant.
I love what I do, and I understand why I do what I do — for my family, for my kids — and I love the work. I think that’s where it comes from. I’ve always been like that. I take a little bit of a break and then I think, “Nah… taking a break isn’t how you got to where you are now.” Being a professional athlete is a blessing and something I do not take for granted.
It was never given to you and you’ve had to work hard for everything you’ve achieved. Is that what drives you?
That’s definitely it. Now, I don’t think about things the same way I used to think about them when I was 18, 23 years old. I’m 33 and understand that you grow, but hard work and dedication to the craft is the key to everything. I love to work, train, and play any other sport I can translate to basketball — soccer with the footwork, tennis with the hand-eye coordination and changing of directions.
What TV do you like to watch when you’re kicking back and unwinding?
Honestly, I don’t watch TV. I listen to music and watch YouTube highlights of Neymar and Alcaraz. I’m not even exaggerating. That’s what I do. And I’ve been watching YouTube videos of how to play backgammon. I’m the odd man out amongst my friends and I’ve got to beat them at their own game.
So, you never take a beat. You’re always studying, working to improve.
Always. There’s always room for improvement and always room to be better — in all aspects of life. I’m trying to maximize every single second of every single day and be the best version of myself I can be.
When did you first fall in love with country music?
I fell in love with country music in the fall of 2010. It was my senior year at Marquette, and everyone in the locker room was listening to Lil Wayne and Jay-Z, and I love the hip-hop world and respect that music as well, but I kept telling them to turn the music down. They said, “Worry about what’s in your headphones.” So, I went home and googled, “What’s the most country song?” The first song that came up is “Don’t Take the Girl” by Tim McGraw. I downloaded it, went back into the locker room, and started blaring that song over and over again — because it was the only country song that I had — and everyone was going, “Turn that shit down! Ain’t nobody want to hear that!” And I went, “Uh-uh. Same thing you told me last time: Worry about what’s in your headphones, and I’m going to listen to mine.”
Then, I started to listen to the lyrics and learned about more country singers, women and men. So, I went from Tim McGraw to Faith Hill to Brad Paisley to Kenny Chesney to Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks. It was an ever-winding road of musical talent. Now, you have country music that’s basically like hip hop or R&B. You have Dan + Shay who are singing these incredible notes. Now, in 2023, I’m knee-deep in it and try to see as many concerts as I can.
You’re a fan of Garth Brooks, but are you also into Chris Gaines?
You know… I’m a fan of everybody. I’m just biased because the very first country concert I saw when I became an NBA player was Garth Brooks. When I was in Vegas doing Summer League, he was doing a residency there. I got to see him sing and this was at a point in time where I was trying to learn to play guitar. I was sitting front row and I’m not even listening to the music like I should be. I was just watching his hand movements playing guitar. Afterward, I got to go backstage and meet Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, but I wasn’t really paying attention. I was just looking at his hands, which were so calloused from playing guitar. I said, “So, if I’m going to get as good as you my hands will have to look like that?” We said our goodbyes, I went home, and I never touched a guitar again because I didn’t want my hands to look like that. Now I’m on the writing side of country music instead of playing guitar.
I heard that you’re writing and recording music with some Nashville artists.
I don’t want to tell anyone who I’ve been writing with because then it’ll ruin the surprise. Now, I’m in the lab writing and producing country music. We got some real artists and songwriters. We probably got around 45 tracks right now, and I hope to go write some more. Maybe a week before training camp I’ll get down and do some. There’s definitely going to be an album. That’s the goal. I just don’t know when. The date I want to do it always gets pushed back because this other job that I have, playing basketball, kind of overshadows everything. [Laughs] And maybe some of the songs will be down the line for my second or third album. I can’t wait to get it to the people.
What’s on your pregame music mix?
It just depends on how I’m feeling on any given day. Country music is definitely [there] a bit. I listen to Dermot Kennedy, who’s like a brother to me, and then I got into the U.K. hip hop, like Stormzy, Dave, and Central Cee. I listen to some Brazilian funk and I don’t understand a single word that’s being said, but I like the beat and think I’m Brazilian because my favorite soccer player is Neymar. And you obviously have the pop, R&B, and hip hop.
I read that you’re friends with Morgan Wallen and you had his music blasting through the Nuggets arena before Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Yeah. That is my guy. My birthday is September 14 and he plays a concert on my birthday in Toronto. I’ve already talked to him and said that I want to come onstage and just sing one line of a song. I mean, I could sing many of his songs, but I just want to sing one line of “’98 Braves.” Maybe I’ll sing a whole verse!
He was embroiled in some controversy when he was caught on video saying the N-word. Did you two talk through that as friends? How did you guys move past that?
Wasn’t no controversy for me. I don’t even know what happened. I heard about it. I didn’t see the video. I didn’t look much into it and I’m not going to look much into it. I don’t think he’s a bad human being in any way, shape or form. He is a friend of mine, and I don’t know what happened. Obviously, it was a mistake, I think he learned from it, I think he knows better, and I don’t know what was said and in what context, but I think he’s an incredible human being who made a mistake.
Your story is incredible. You were out on the street at 13. Do you look back at that young guy and think about how far you’ve come?
I actually don’t think about it. My life is great now. I have wonderful kids and a wonderful family, and I just know how I want them to grow up and I’ll give them every tool and everything they need and want to be successful in their lifetime. I focus on the right-now and hope and pray for the future. I don’t look too far back. You can get lost doing that. That’s a long way to go back, trying to remember each and every turn you took to get back there, so when you turn around to try and get back where you’re at, you’re stuck being back there. I’m not thinking about going backward.
That being said, what advice would you give other kids stuck in a situation like that?
My advice would be to use whatever you use to motivate you, but I would never tell anybody to prove anyone else wrong. I used to be like that, and to me, it was very spiteful of me. And then I grew up and realized that it wasn’t even about proving them wrong, it was about proving myself right, because I knew I could do this the entire time. Prove yourself right. Don’t worry about what other people say. The only thing you have to prove is to yourself. Be the best version of you every single moment of every single day.
Most people know your story — unrecruited out of high school, drafted late in the first round of the NBA Draft. Why do you think people keep underestimating you?
People are gonna be people, and it’s OK. I don’t get mad at ‘em for it. I wouldn’t pick me either. I would pick the shiny one who’s supposed to be there because those are the ones you can normally bank on. It never bugs me. I’m too confident and comfortable in my own skin that nothing really gets to me. I don’t watch TV, so I don’t hear what anyone ever says about me. I don’t read anything on the internet, so I can’t read what anyone says about me. Every once in a while, when I’m on Instagram, I can read a comment someone says. But I don’t pay attention to that. It actually makes me worse. I would never want to be so caught up in what someone else thinks that I can’t even hear my own thoughts or focus on what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m good. I’ll just stay in my own head.
You filed a trademark for “HIMMY BUTLER.” What do you plan to do with that?
Who knows! Something down the line. Maybe I got a special “Himmy Butler/Himmy Buckets” coffee blend with Big Face, my coffee brand. It’s just better safe than sorry, I guess! But there’s definitely something there and I’ll figure out what it is.
There are rumors that you’re dating Shakira. Are they true?
She’s an incredible human being and an incredible talent, but you never know what people are doing so people just make stuff up. Just because we are friends, she lives in Miami, and her sons are big basketball fans — that doesn’t mean anybody’s dating. Just because people hang out doesn’t mean anybody’s dating. But it gives everybody something to talk about, so y’all take it and y’all run with it. She’s very, very cool and that’s all I got!
Hips don’t lie.
Yeah, you like that? [Laughs]
How did you come up with the idea for Big Face Coffee in the NBA Bubble?
Man, it was another way for me not to take my mind off basketball, but to not make basketball what Jimmy Butler is 24-7. In the Bubble, you didn’t have your family or anybody, so I just started ordering all this stuff off Amazon because I wanted coffee and there was no good coffee in the Bubble. I started making my own, and before you know it everyone is sending me all types of beans and machines they use, and that idea was born to start my own coffee brand the way I think coffee should be made, and the way coffee goes with anything and everything if you do it right.
I read that you were charging players $20 a cup but offered no change, which means players who only had hundreds were paying $100 for a cup of your coffee. That is genius.
That’s a fact. Everybody was paying a large amount of money for a cup of coffee because during the Covid/pandemic time, there was no cash. Everything in the Bubble was done with wristbands. We would get our per diems and I realized, if I could get people to pay me in twenties, they’d eventually run out of twenties and have to pay me with hundreds, and then they didn’t realize that they’d really be paying $100 a cup because I said I didn’t have change. But ain’t nobody care about paying a hundred dollars for a cup of coffee if I’m makin’ it. It’s just that good.
How do you take your coffee?
I drink coffee in all different types of ways — cappuccino, latte, flat white. I haven’t gotten onboard with the straight espresso shots yet. With iced coffee, you could go coffee with tonic, or I like coffee with sparkling water. I’m always experimenting.
What do you feel your Miami Heat need to do to win it all? Is Dame Lillard the answer?
The thing we need to do to win it all is whenever the Playoffs start, be the first team to win sixteen games. It’s literally as simple as that. It doesn’t matter what seed you are. If you’re healthy, confident, and playing your best basketball at the right time, which is during the Playoffs — and I really hope I’m doing everything in my power to get my squad to sixteen wins.
One of the greatest moments from last year’s Playoffs was when the Celtics’ Grant Williams got in your face and you just went off. It seemed to light a fire under you.
I wouldn’t say that it lit a fire under me. I just started playing basketball. I would like to think in the fourth quarters I play a little bit better than I have all game anyway, so it was bound to happen. I was going to start to take and make shots, it just so happened that he did that right beforehand and then everybody made a big deal out of it. It looked like it was because of him that I did that, but that’s just basketball, man. Eastern Conference Finals, everybody wants to win, everyone running off that high and adrenaline, and it’s the best form of competition. I like that. I think he’s gonna do well on his new team in Dallas, and if it comes to him getting in my face or me getting in his again, that’s just a part of basketball.
Who are your heroes, and why?
My kids, man. My true heroes are my kids because they have to sacrifice so much with who I am as their dad. I can’t take them to school every single day. I can’t pick them up from school every single day. I can’t sit down and have dinner with them every night. They sacrifice so much, and I’ve sacrificed so much to get to where I am today, so I can understand how hard that can be at times, but they’re my heroes because I just want to live up to every single aspect they see me as — the best dad, the best basketball player, the best drawer, the best tic-tac-toe-r, the best Lego-builder, whatever it may be. Those kids are who I look up to.