Jimmy Butler and the Sixers: Reflecting on a relationship rollercoaster


Even with Philadelphia’s rich reputation of being an obsessive “sports town”, very rarely has a player made such a big impact in such a short time as Jimmy Butler did with the 76ers. In a span of just 55 games, Butler went from being a pure idol to the Philly faithful, to now being one of their most hated former players. After Butler received the booing of a lifetime last week, now seems like a perfect time to reflect on what just happened between Butler and the “city of brotherly love”.

The Rise of Jimmy “Buckets” Butler

As far as underdog stories go Butler’s is one of the best ones out there. After his father abandoned him and his mother as a child, Butler was kicked out of his own home being forced to bounce around, living with local friends. He received zero big-time collegiate basketball offers, playing a season at a local junior college. He then transferred to Marquette, painfully but steadily continuing to earn his way through life.

Jimmy Butler fell all the way to the 30th pick of the 2011 draft and started just 20 games in his first two seasons for the Chicago Bulls. Despite Butler’s career seemingly trending towards “bust” categories, Butler continued to rely on his work ethic. By his fourth season, he was selected to his first All-Star Game, and by his 7th season, he had earned that honor four times in a row.

Butler also won a Most Improved Player award, was selected to two All-NBA Third teams, and made the All-NBA Defensive Second Team four different times. 

Mishaps in Minnesota

Butler was traded at the start of the 2017-2018 season, being shipped out to Minnesota to pair with budding stars Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Despite thriving statistically with the Timberwolves, it was clear this was not a productive pairing

Butler was repeatedly critical of his teammates, especially “KAT”. He called out their desire to win along with their work ethic. This rift accumulated when Butler famously beat the starters with a “group of third-stringers”.

After just 69 games with the Timberwolves, Butler was traded yet again. This time to a team desperate to win, the Philadelphia 76ers.

What Should’ve Been: 2018/2019 Season

Butler and Philadelphia seemed like a match made in heaven. The gritty, underdog style to Butler immediately won over the hearts of the city. 

Despite not always fitting the team schematically, Butler formed obvious bonds with the players already there. Him and Joel Embiid remain close friends to this day, and guys like Mike Scott and Ben Simmons routinely wore matching headbands with Jimmy.

The 2018/2019 Sixers came within a game of reaching the ECF, and Butler no doubt played a pivotal role in that process. His clutch play on both sides of the ball throughout the playoffs was well received by both fans and teammates alike.

Becoming a Villain

Despite the love he received from the city and the chemistry he formed with the team, Butler ultimately chose against re-signing with Philadelphia. He decided to take his talents to South Beach, as he joined the rebuilding Miami Heat.

There’s a lot of “blurriness” when it comes to analyzing this decision from Butler. Some claim he was never happy in Philly, some say he had beef with either Brett Brown or Ben Simmons, and some say it was because GM Elton Brand never offered a full max contract.

Regardless of who or what you believe, one thing is certain. Jimmy Butler chose to leave the Sixers. If he truly wanted to remain in Philly, he could’ve and would’ve found a way. For a player who consistently raves about his “work ethic” and “desire to win”, pushing for the sign and trade with the Heat sure just looked like an early retirement move.

The Conclusion

Butler and his new Miami teammates traveled to Philadelphia on the 23rd of November, as the stage was set for his first game against his former team. The evening took the form of a playoff atmosphere, as the Philly faithful ruthlessly booed their former star forward.

As I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, the game went about as well for Sixers fans as they ever could have hoped. The 76ers won by a score of 113-86, at one point stretching their lead to over 40. Butler put up a whopping 11 points while Josh Richardson (who was acquired in the sign and trade deal) dropped 32 on his ex-team.

Following the blowout, Butler initially did not have much to say, claiming the boos didn’t affect him in the slightest. However, just a few days later Butler snapped back, calling out his former Sixer teammates for their lack of work ehic, almost an identical scenario to his falling out in Minnesota.

The Jimmy Butler saga is a strange one. In what seemed like a perfect marriage from the jump, the aftermath has been brutal. Butler’s “I work harder than everyone else” gimmick is growing tiresome, and the Heat simply don’t compare to the 76ers in terms of championship potential.

As the 2019/2020 season progresses, the failed Butler experiment will quickly become a thing of the past. However, whenever Butler and the Heat pull into the Wells Fargo Center, expect some serious booing to ensue.

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports