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From Homeless To The NBA: The Story of Jimmy Butler

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Jimmy Butler has been called the NBA All-Star for four consecutive years and earned a gold medal for the United States in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. You might not know that his road to get here is not like any NBA player’s journey.

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When he was a teenager, his mother threw him out of her home, leaving him homeless and abandoned. With no other family to turn to, he was left to care for himself at just 13 years old. He was homeless for years until one day a random meeting changed his world.

The story you’re about to see displays the real meaning of the human spirit and complete love…


Rough Beginnings

The last words Jimmy Butler heard from his biological mom would haunt him: “I don’t like the look of you. You gotta go.” She screamed at him just before kicking him out of her apartment in Tomball, Texas.

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He landed on the street. Just like that, his life had changed forever. What was he to do? He knew it was up to him to turn this around and make it work. He wasn’t going to fail at this new battle he faced.

Homework and Girlfriends

He was only 13 years old with no other relatives to go to. He didn’t have a penny to his name. Jimmy’s youth is far from your norm, instead of worrying about homework or girlfriends, he had to worry about where his next dinner was coming from and where he was going to sleep that night.

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The worst part is that he had to go through this all alone at such a young age. It made Butler value the things in life that money can’t buy – like friends, trust, and respect.

His Manager’s Words

One NBA manager says it best when talking about Jimmy Butler: “His story is one of the most remarkable I’ve seen in all my years of basketball. There were so many times in his life where he was set up to fail. Every time, he overcame just enormous odds.

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When you talk to him, and he’s hesitant to talk about his life, you just have this feeling that this kid has greatness in him.” It’s obvious he left an impact on those around him.

His Own Humility

However, Butler likes to downplay his hardships. He never wants to be seen as a victim for everything he suffered. Butler once said in an interview: “Please, I know you’re going to write something. I’m just asking you, don’t write it in a way that makes people feel sorry for me… I hate that.”

Air Freshener

“There’s nothing to feel sorry about. I love what happened to me. It made me who I am. I’m grateful for the challenges I’ve faced…”

The Story

His father deserted him and his mother when he was just a newborn. After being booted out of the house at just 13 years of age, Jimmy had no alternative but to try and live with his friends –  because that’s all he had left.

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He was fortunate enough to make a lot of friends at school and many of them gave him a place to stay. But each visit only lasted a few weeks at a time and he was always concerned about where he was going to sleep next.

Finding a Passion

This continued a few years until one day, a random meeting changed his life. Basketball was all Butler had that remained steady. He was on his high school basketball team and was quietly being scouted by someone, but not from a college nor NBA team.

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At the end of a summer league match, Jimmy was approached by a kid, Jordan Leslie, who was in 9th grade at Jimmy’s school, Tomball High School. What happened next changed both their lives.

Meeting Jordan

Jordan was an ambitious athlete, both in basketball and football. He challenged Jimmy to a 3-point-shooting competition and after the game, the two became close friends.

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Leslie learned of Jimmy’s circumstance and asked him to play video games and sleep over at his home. Butler’s life would never be the same…

Meeting The Parents!

Jordan’s mom, Michelle Lambert, was reluctant at first. Tomball wasn’t a big place and she had heard rumors that Jimmy was a problem. She also had seven kids of her own to look after –  four from her last husband who had died, and three that her new husband had preceding their marriage.

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Michelle was unsure if there was space in the house to keep another child – but perhaps short-term it was ok? She didn’t want to disappoint her son.

The Father Influence

But Jordan’s father allowed to let Jimmy stay for Jordan. The agreement was only for a day or two, but that’s all Jimmy needed. Then something extraordinary happened. Every night, when Jimmy would go over to stay, each one of the children would answer that they were using their one night to have Jimmy over:

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“Tonight’s my night to have Jimmy stay!” They would say, in turn. This continued for months until eventually, the Lamberts agreed and said that Jimmy that he could stay for as long as he wanted.

The House Rules

Jimmy had to agree to many rules before he could join their family. First, he had to go to all his classes and fix his grades. Second, he had to do errands in the house just like all the other children.

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Third, he had to go home by a specific time each day. But the last rule was the most significant: He had to be a role model to her younger children who admired him. Could he do it?

The Explanations

Michelle explained: “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.”

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Jimmy’s response was humbling: “they accepted me into their family… and it wasn’t because of basketball. She was just very loving. She just did stuff like that. I couldn’t believe it.” It was a big leap of faith for everyone involved.

Playing In High School

In his second year at Tomball High, Jimmy only averaged 10 points per game at Basketball. But after the Lamberts took him into their family, everything started looking up.

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Jimmy worked up to become the team captain and by the time he was a senior he averaged 19.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game! He was named the team’s Most Valuable Player and eventually made it into the all-district first team. It became a big part of his life.

Almost There

Sadly, it wasn’t quite enough to get any scholarship offers from some of the top colleges in the country. No one believed he was any good, and with funds being tight at the Lambert household with now eight kids, Butler had didn’t have a choice – he went to community college.

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It became a theme in his life: a few ups but many more downs. It inspired him to work harder and be better – he couldn’t disappoint his new family.

Community College

He attended Tyler Junior College, which was a 2-year community college. In his first conference game, he scored 34 points which was considered fantastic.

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He continued to have a many more 30 point and 40 point nights, and it gave him a lot more assurance that he could play at a higher level eventually. Jimmy became the leading scorer and started to get noticed by coaches from colleges in and around the USA. They could see a spark in the young man.

Offers Started

It was April of his freshman year when Jimmy got offers from Kentucky, Iowa State, Clemson, Marquette, and Mississippi State. They all wanted him! He couldn’t believe the validation he was finally getting for practicing his passion – and it was now paying off.

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Jimmy couldn’t decide what to do, so he did what he felt most comfortable. He sought advice from his new mom, Michelle. He trusted her 100% and knew she could help. What did she say?

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She thought that whereas some of the schools had better basketball programs, his education meant a lot since basketball might not end the way he hoped. Michelle urged him to have a back-up plan with classes and grades.

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Together, they ended up picking Marquette – where Jimmy had a huge realization. For the last few years, he was used to being the best. He ruled the courts and was always the lead. But at Marquette, he found himself often sitting on the bench, not getting a minute of game time.

A Mistake?

He wanted to go home. Michelle cautioned him that life wouldn’t always go his way and that he must use every encounter as an opportunity to learn and grow. Coach Buzz Williams explained:

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“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.”

An Opportunity

Jimmy Butler finally got his minutes on the court after waiting weeks to play. However, he only averaged 5.6 points in more than 19 minutes a match. He was still getting benched for two other future NBA players, Wes Matthews and Lazar Hayward.

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However, he took the words of his mom to heart and turned the circumstance into a positive one. He would continue to train out of hours and prove his ability to his coach and teammates

Reminiscing

“I was taught by the best. Those guys showed me so much about how to play and how to be a person. I knew that to be victorious, I had to be more than just a scorer.”

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“I had to become a master. It’s not about getting points. It’s about doing what my team requires me to do. I wanna be that glue guy, I want to be a guy my unit and my coach can rely on. That’s what I want to be.”

Improvements

By his final year at Marquette, not only was he averaging an impressive 15.7 points per game, but he was rebounding, handling the ball – and most vitally, was now a lockdown defender! He started getting seen by NBA scouts and they liked what they saw.

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If you ask Jimmy about the highlights of that time, the highlight of his whole college career is when his mom joined him on the court for senior night. It meant so much to both of them.

The Star Today

Today, 29-year-old Jimmy Butler is a professional basketball player for the Philadelphia 76ers! At a massive two meters, he is one of their shining stars and specializes in Small Forward and Shooting Guard positions.

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He couldn’t have made it so far without the love and support of his friends, family, and teammates. He still has a career ahead of him – something he will be facing with the enthusiasm and strength he learned from his difficult early years.

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