The first night he arrived in Chicago after becoming an official member of the Bulls, former Marquette forward Jimmy Butler visited the home of new teammate Derrick Rose.
There was already a connection between the two. Rose's longtime friend and current personal assistant Randall Hampton played with Butler at Tyler (Tex.) Junior College during the 2007-08 season.
“We went to his house and just watched the BET Awards, for the most part,” Butler said. “We just talked about basketball, my life, and me and Randall joking around about our junior college days.
“It's crazy that I used to watch (Rose) on TV and now I'm a teammate. I tried not to let that show too much. He's a good dude. He's just like me, for the most part, and he just wants to win.”
There may be similarities to Rose, but no one has a life story quite like Butler. While the Bulls rookie sat between coach Tom Thibodeau and general manager Gar Forman at the Berto Center, his unofficial adopted mom, Michelle Lambert, sat to the side of the podium dabbing her eyes with a tissue.
“He's got a great head on his shoulders,” Lambert said. “He's come a long way from the shy little boy that wouldn't come downstairs because he was afraid we would tell him to go home to the kid that all our kids love.”
Butler wasn't exactly a little boy when he moved into the Lambert house. He was heading into his senior year at Tomball High School in suburban Houston.
He'd already spent four years bouncing between friends' houses, yet still managed to become a dedicated basketball star and an academic qualifier when he first headed to college.
Being welcomed as the eighth child in the Lambert household is a great story. But what about those four years when Butler had no permanent residence? How did he get school clothes or basketball shoes? Were there any nights when he couldn't find a place to stay?
“I always found somewhere,” Butler said. “I consider Jermaine Thomas my brother now. I stayed with him for a while before staying with the Lamberts. He was in my (Marquette) Senior Night picture. He's like a brother to me, too.
“The families I was with normally supplied everything I needed from them. I've been a size 13 (shoe) since I can remember. I had shoes from back then until now. I walked in my basketball shoes, played in my basketball shoes.”
Lambert's son, Jordan Leslie, now a sophomore wide receiver on the Texas-El Paso football team, befriended Butler and brought him home.
The Lamberts had a blended family and Michelle said her husband, Michael, had just gone through an expensive custody battle. So adding another mouth to feed didn't seem like a great idea initially.
“I think when he lived with a lot of people, he got the reputation in Tomball that he was trouble,” Lambert said. “But because you're going to someone's house, something happens, they automatically think it's the kid that's not there.
“He really was never trouble. I never had problems. There was nothing. But I heard from all these people and people were coming to basketball games saying, ‘I think you need to be careful.' My family loves him. My kids love him. There was just no way I believed (those stories). I just knew.”
Now when Butler returns to Tomball, he follows Michelle to the soccer games of his younger pseudo-siblings and insisted on scheduling his predraft workouts around the UTEP spring football game.
The toughest part, according to Michelle, was convincing Butler the family would never turn its back on him or insist he move out of the house. If he were ever in jail, Michelle promised to be there to bail him out. Not that legal trouble was ever a concern.
Now, Michelle worries about the people who ignored Butler during those teenage years wanting back in his life just because he's an NBA first-round draft pick.
“I just try to tell him, we want nothing from him, but you have to remember the people that turned their back,” she said. “If you were a truck driver, those people would not be here saying, ‘I was your friend. I believed in you.'
“I have a lot of sleepless nights thinking about that because that's what scares me the most about everything.”
Considering what Butler has already survived, keeping his newest fans in line should be an open layup.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.