The Jimmy Butler Way: Teammates Not Friends

Take the best teams of all time. You will find more teammates who didn’t hang out together and didn’t party together and didn’t spend birthdays together and didn’t have family vacations together than you will find best friends. Friends are hard to come by in any walk of life and most of the time your closest friends are not the people you work with. The co-worker is often the one who annoys you but the one who you have to spend time with in order to get paid. No one thinks anything of it when the department secretary and the accounting assistant can’t get along. It’s a personality thing.

But we have all of these romantic ideas of what we want sports to be and we ratchet the emotion up a notch when it is the team we root for. If Jimmy Butler is friends with Derrick Rose we stupidly think the Bulls are a better team for it than, say, if Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose tolerate each other but still achieve. Friends, when together, are defined by their closeness but friends and their closeness can get in the way.

Jimmy Butler recently said he had teammates on the Chicago Bulls he didn’t particularly get along with and of course Bulls fans went through the roster rolodex trying to figure out who it was. Who did Jimmy Butler have beef with? Well, it must be Derrick Rose. That last game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, game 6, when the Bulls were eliminated at home and put up a pretty pathetic performance, Rose appeared genuinely irritated at Butler. From afar, their chemistry seemed to have disappeared and they played like they just met each other five minutes ago. Butler wanted the ball all the time, Rose acquiesced but he didn’t seem to like it and there was no communication between the two.

Derrick Rose was a superstar for three years and then he was injured for three years. Jimmy Butler, in the Hurt Locker years, took over. Both Butler and Rose had the team to themselves. Now they have to learn to compromise with each other, something they have yet to fully embrace; they are a work in progress.

I remember thinking the Rose/Butler partnership has issues when I saw the Bulls play in Sacramento. Derrick Rose took 34 shots. Most of the shots were not out of the offense but jacks where Rose froze out a lot of his teammates as if he had to prove something to Steph Curry. The next game was on national television, the Lakers, a seemingly easy game but once again Rose didn’t defer to Butler when he should. Butler is the better perimeter scorer now and many would argue the better player. Rose can’t let go of his own MVP history but I hate to say it- that Derrick Rose is gone.

Butler and Rose are still figuring out how to make it all work, how they can depend upon each other in games and what their chemistry is. That is no different than any two teammates who have to learn about each other. They don’t have to be friends to do that which is what Jimmy Butler acknowledges.

“I don’t think we have any beef or whatever you want to call it. I think we just want to win. We didn’t win so now people say we are beefing, now we have a problem with each other and I don’t think that’s the case.” (First Take)

Interesting word choice by Butler using the word “think” instead of the word “know.” There is a lot of gray area in thinking something is true rather than knowing something is true. My read on Butler is that he doesn’t care about Rose off the court, just about what they can do together when they play.

The NBA is built on relationships similar to Butler and Rose and the game has survived for 60 years. Consider that Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar are the top 5 players in NBA history. They went to 9 NBA Finals together. Yet Magic and Abdul-Jabaar went their separate ways once the games were over. Magic’s best friend was Byron Scott.

Kobe Bryant frequently references Derek Fisher as the teammate he was closest to and then he says he’s not a very good friend, he doesn’t remember birthdays or to call people. Yet he and Fisher went to 7 NBA Finals.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s friendship is the exception, not the rule, and even then several Miami Heat writers referenced how their friendship isn’t exactly what people think it is. Their closeness didn’t save them from two NBA Finals losses. A few years ago, Mo Williams said LeBron is your friend in one moment and then will step over you to get out of the door.

It all means that friendship in the NBA doesn’t really matter which is the point Jimmy Butler is making. He and Rose don’t really talk so he can’t expand upon a relationship with such blurry edges. He told First Take, “From what I can tell, the guy’s always been in my corner.”

That’s all that counts.


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