Jimmy Butler has the work ethic, skills, defensive acumen and oratory skills to quickly win over a fan base. He already had almost all of Minnesota and its Timberwolves fans on board before even stepping foot inside Mall of America on Thursday for his introductory news conference attended by an estimated 2,500 onlookers, most of them Wolves backers.
But then he was asked by a Chicago reporter about comments made since the trade by Antoine Walker about his presence in the locker room and other “shots fired” by people in Chicago about his time with the Bulls.
His agent, Bernard Lee, was sitting in the front row, a couple seats away from Karl-Anthony Towns, and both were seated directly in front of the media row in which I was in.
Lee leaned over, smiled and said to Towns, “Watch.”
I asked if Butler was about to go off. Lee reiterated: “Watch.”
It appears Lee was prepared for at least some of what Butler was going to say (more on that in just a minute). What followed was essentially a far more eloquent version of “come at me, bro.”
Said Butler: “It’s not frustrating. It’s expected. Somebody’s got to take the blame. I’ll be that guy. I’m OK with it.”
A fan shouted from high above, “Sour grapes!” and caused Butler and Tom Thibodeau to pause and smile.
Butler continued: “I’m fine. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. But with that being said: My phone is in my back pocket right now. Whoever has something to say to me, feel free.”
It wasn’t quite the bravado of the “My arms are more powerful than your guns” quote attributed to former Vikings star Keith Millard in a run-in with police a few decades ago, but it had a similar effect. Butler is not a man to be messed with, and he will let you know it.
To fully add to the lore, though, Butler then proceeded to give out what appears to be his actual cellphone number.
Lee tweeted later, “So this is why in movies people give out numbers as ‘555 1212’ huh? Turns out ppl actually call… .”
I admit I called a few times but always got a busy signal. A Bleacher Report writer had better luck, getting the call to at least go through to Butler’s voicemail (alas, the mailbox was full).
It was the signature moment of a eventful day. Thibodeau couldn’t stop smiling and probably hasn’t been this happy since … well, ever? Wolves fans had a hard time containing themselves, too.
One of them, Justin LaRue, took a selfie with Thibodeau and casually mentioned that he had flown in from Baltimore just to be at the news conference. Overhearing this, I had questions. One of them was: Wait, seriously?
He was serious. LaRue is a longtime Baltimore resident who started following the Wolves when they were an expansion team. He fell in love during the Kevin Garnett era, and he’s stayed true for 13 playoff-less seasons. When he found a cheap last-minute flight, he decided to make the trip to see Butler introduced.
How do you think the Wolves will do this year, Justin?
“Decent,” he replied. “Playoffs, obviously. Maybe somewhere in the 4-8 seed. They might not be ready for the top three yet.”
Try telling that to Jimmy Butler. Go ahead. Call him. He’s waiting.