Bulls

Jimmy Butler celebrates shoe release with surprise visit to Fenwick High School

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Jimmy Butler celebrates shoe release with surprise visit to Fenwick High School

Jimmy Butler couldn’t hide his smile, holding his new performance shoe in his hands, moments before he was supposed to surprise high school basketball teams with a special appearance coinciding with the release of the Jordan Ultra.Fly.

In a room inside Oak Park’s Fenwick High School, a Jordan Brand sponsored school, the two-time All-Star still has moments of humility mixed with the disbelief that he’d made it to this spot—as one of Jordan Brand’s signature athletes.

“It’s crazy,” Butler confessed to CSNChicago.com Friday afternoon at Fenwick. “I’ve come a long way from Tomball, Texas, which everybody has heard me say before, let alone be on the Jordan Brand is big time for me. Just the other athletes we have, Michael Jordan himself, I’m just at a lost for words just to have my own shoe out with the brand. And I’m very fortunate.”

Butler later walked into a classroom where the boys’ and girls’ high school teams were unknowingly waiting on Butler to make his appearance, earning a rousing applause and before posing with the teams for a picture, did a question-and-answer session from Easy Otabor, buyer and operator for RSVP Gallery in Chicago.

Butler has worn the Ultra.Fly in the past few weeks in various colors, and it’s being released nationwide this weekend in a black/green colorway, with more colorways to come at $125. It’s inspired by Jordan’s nickname, “Black Cat”, earned due to the former Bull being graceful, agile and most importantly, cutthroat on the basketball court as a competitor.

“It’s my sneaker. It’s really for athletic individuals like myself,” Butler joked. “The shoe itself is real durable and I think it compliments my game well. It looks good when it’s out there on the floor. When you look good, you feel good, you play good.”

It’s one of the lightest shoes Jordan Brand has to offer and Butler considers it most appropriate and comfortable, given his aggressive style.

“On top of everything else, it can maintain my style of play,” Butler said. “As hard as I try to play on both ends, the Ultra Fly is definitely helping me keep doing that.”

Most of Jordan Brand’s performance shoes have some symbolism to Jordan specifically, and Butler was the muse for this shoe-- which shouldn’t come as a surprise to the player carrying on the Jordan tradition in the city Jordan made himself famous.

“It’s good and it’s bad,” Butler said. “I think it’s good to be one of the faces of Jordan here in this city. But the bad part is everybody wants to compare me to the man himself because we play the same position for the same team and I don’t think I’ll ever want to be compared to him when you see what he’s done for the game, what he’s done for this brand, his brand. I don’t find it too disappointing to be compared to him. Maybe one day I can be half the player he was.”

[SHOP: Buy a Jimmy Butler jersey]

Butler shares the responsibility of being on Jordan Brand with the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard, among others. Being a member of an exclusive family means that much more.

“I’d hope so. Because that would make me feel really important! 'Aww, Michael Jordan picked me to represent his brand,'” Butler said. “But yeah, I get to see him All-Star, we keep in touch but that’s just how the brand works. It’s really a family, everybody’s taking care of everybody, everybody’s making sure everybody’s doing okay. When you go against another Jordan Brand athlete, it’s all respect, it’s all love.”

The same way he looked up to Jordan is similar in some ways to the way the kids in that classroom looks up to Butler currently—as an inspiration and his mere presence represents a manifestation of the dream, especially to point guard Mike Smith, as Butler has taken Smith under his wing.

“Yeah, exactly, I’ve been in their shoes, wanting to get to where I am now,” Butler said. “I know exactly what they’re going through, how they’re feeling. I’m just trying to get them to understand, it’s all possible if you believe in yourself, work hard and put your mind to it. You can’t believe all the naysayers and doubters telling you that you can’t do anything. Buy into it, hear it enough, that’s not okay. Like I tell Mike (Smith) every day. Do what’s best for you because it’s your life. He’s the only one that can live it. I wish all these kids the best of luck and I want their dreams to come true just like mine did.”

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson scored 10 of 12 points for the Bulls during a fourth quarter run in Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals, the series clincher, and famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch that series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

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USA TODAY

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.