The adoration of the Bulls fans in attendance washed over Jimmy Butler as they waited for him to complete his postgame interview on the Wells Fargo Center floor, cheering him as he exited through the tunnel and to the locker room after his 53-point performance.
“It felt good, I’m not gonna lie,” Butler told CSNChicago.com after completing speaking with the media at his locker.
The adrenaline that flowed as he ignored the pain from his sprained right ankle caught up with him as he soaked his feet in the locker room, not ready to put his performance in perspective but well-aware he’d done something special.
Necessary, but special, particularly when he was told who was in attendance for the game: None other than Jerry Colangelo, Executive Director for USA Basketball, the man who holds the biggest piece to Butler’s prospective Olympic candidacy in his hands.
“Oh really? Wow. That’s big time,” Butler told CSNChicago.com. “Hopefully he likes what he saw. It’s my dream to represent this country and some of the best players in the world. It’s a good night to do what I did.”
Colangelo has taken a prominent role in the 76ers organization after the neglect with the current regime, and the longtime respected executive was in attendance, flying in from his home in Arizona where he was treated to quite a performance from Butler.
“That’s fine. The bossman was in the building for the USA team,” said Butler, his eyes getting wider and wider. “Just gotta continue to play like that and help us win games. We’ll worry about USA (team) when it gets here.”
In the moment though, Butler’s performance would’ve never been birthed if not for Trevelle Gaines, one of Butler’s trainers, who challenged Butler to play all 82 games this season.
With the way Butler’s right ankle swelled up between Tuesday’s game in Milwaukee and Thursday morning, no one would’ve been surprised if Butler took the night off and rested his body for more meaningful contests.
“Because I have a bet with my trainer (that) I’ll play 82 games,” said Butler with a smile. “When I’m nicked up, my trainer, Mr. Travelle Gaines said ‘we gotta get you to play 82’. So I gotta take care of my body, hydrate, take care of my knees. He said let’s do it.”
And never one to back down from a challenge, the man who didn’t participate in shootaround was introduced with the starting five. Although, playing the game’s final 37 minutes and three seconds was a little more than he likely bargained for.
Butler became the fourth player to tally at least 50 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals in the last 30 seasons. Michael Jordan did it twice (1989, 90), along with Chris Webber (2001) and Dwyane Wade (2009).
“He’ll get treatment tonight. Jimmy’s a warrior, he’s out there fighting,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “As the game went on, it almost look like--I don’t know if ‘fresher’ is the word but the ankle kept feeling better and better. And obviously he’s fighting and playing through adrenaline as the game goes to overtime.”
Once he checked back in for Tony Snell with 8:03 remaining in the second quarter, he didn’t miss a second of game action. The Bulls were in critical condition, down 19, and headed toward life support two minutes later when the 76ers took a 24-point lead behind a bunch of players who weren’t exactly household names.
“Me tired? That never happens. No, that doesn’t happen (laughs),” Butler said. “I was tired. When I was tired, my teammates did what they had to do. When I wasn’t tired, they got me the ball and let me attack.”
[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
Butler went 15-for-30 from the field and made 21 of 25 free throws, the 21st time in NBA history a player scored 50 or more with 15 field goals or fewer, signifying the contact he took from the 76ers and the work he put in, as opposed to just getting hot.
“They need me to be aggressive every night,” Butler told CSNChicago.com at his locker. “No matter who it’s against, from the jump. That’s gotta be my role on this team, make guys guard me so I can get a lot of guys easy shots.”
But without the prodding of his trash-talking trainer’s voice in his head, Butler could’ve chosen to sit this one out and not given Colangelo a final impression to make decisions for the summer.
Before the game, Colangelo told CSNChicago.com that next week USA Basketball will reveal the 30 players it’ll take to summer camp before making final cuts before the Olympic Games in Rio.
Upon hearing that, Butler’s eyes got wider.
“They’re gonna make some announcements next week? Well, whenever he makes the announcements everybody will find out something, including myself,” he said.
“I gotta needle my way in and out of 30 guys. At first, though, I gotta win some games for the Bulls.”