When Jimmy Butler's standing in the NBA was little-used reserve and not NBA Finals-bound All-Star, Luol Deng and Adrian Griffin would pick him up for extra workouts at the Berto Center, then the Bulls' suburban practice facility.
When Butler emerged as a force for Bulls teams that challenged for — but never earned — Eastern Conference supremacy, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson sweated alongside him.
So it seemed only fitting Tuesday that Butler fielded a question from former NBC Sports Chicago Bulls Insider and current Yahoo Sports Senior NBA Insider Vincent Goodwill on whether Butler's thoughts have turned to those players now that he's in his first NBA Finals with the Miami Heat.
"I mean, I'm grateful for that part of my journey and for those guys. They showed me the way to being a pro. They showed me what hard work will get you and how just to never give up," Butler said on his Zoom availability for NBA Finals media day. "I talk to a lot of those guys still. I let them know how thankful that I am because I don't think that I'd be here without them. Them letting me know that you have to stay ready, your time is coming and that you belong here. They were constantly telling me how I could play in this league for a very long time. So looking back on it, I guess I could say a part of a reason I'm here is because of those guys."
The Heat face LeBron James and the Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night.
The Bulls made the playoffs in five of Butler's six seasons in Chicago. Three of those appearances ended in first-round defeats, the other two in the second round. Butler's lone season with the Minnesota Timberwolves also produced a first-round playoff exit, and his postseason run with the Philadelphia 76ers led to a Game 7 loss in the second round on Kawhi Leonard's hang-on-the-rim buzzer-beater during the Raptors' storybook run to the 2019 title.
Few expected the fifth-seeded Heat to be in this position. They knocked off the top-seeded Bucks in the second round and stormed through the Boston Celtics in Butler's first Eastern Conference finals appearance.
"We believe in each other," Butler said.