Rene Schwietzke/ Flickr
Rene Schwietzke/ Flickr

The Jimmy Butler saga showed the downside of ego in sports

Jimmy Butler returned to Minnesota Timberwolves training with a bang: “You f***ing need me. You can’t win without me”.

For regular NBA fans, few will be shocked at Butler’s latest outburst. It is well documented that Butler doesn’t do things lightly.

His unlikely ascension to an All-NBA star has come with some rather unwanted consequences, with Butler’s ego becoming a prime force

That said, this latest episode in a war of words between Butler and the Timberwolves front office centres heavily around the former Chicago Bulls star’s desire for the Wolves to wager the future of their franchise on a small forward who will likely command a $188m max contract next summer, despite demanding a trade.

The NBA star’s rise from humble beginnings to his current superstardom has come through sheer hard work and dedication to his art. But, there’s one thing Butler has developed over time that has altered public perception of this gritty NBA forward – his ego.

The 29 year-old was drafted with the 30th pick by the Bulls, and rose from a peripheral rotation player gaining eight and a half minutes per game, to bench rotation piece to fully fledged starter, before finally ousting Derrick Rose as the Bulls’ franchise cornerstone. This unlikely ascension to an All-NBA star has come with some rather unwanted consequences, with Butler’s ego becoming a prime force in his current interactions.

Countless stars across various sports have dominated their respective domains through sheer, unwavering confidence

The Marquette college alumni has reaped the rewards of his hard work and commitment to developing himself over numerous years and it is little surprise that the player has such inner self-belief to be the best he can be. However, this self-confidence has transcended the playing court and his outward actions are a manifestation of his inner thoughts.

The possession of an ego does not have to equate to negative consequences, however. Countless stars across various sports have dominated their respective domains through sheer, unwavering confidence in their own ability to defy the odds, to achieve the extraordinary.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the highest profile example of someone using their ego to go above and beyond what is expected of them. The former Manchester United striker seems to instil confidence in those around him. The Swedish striker has been maligned for his larger than life personality, despite the fact that there has been no perceivable negative influence on his team-mates. The 37 year-old won nine league titles in ten seasons between 2006 and 2016, with four different clubs in three different countries.

To get to the top you have to stand up and be counted on when it matters most

There is even an unwritten agreement between management and player that their egos can be tolerated and managed, if they are a requisite for securing the success that their service brings. Former Manchester United winger Lee Sharpe has famously told the story of how United boss Sir Alex Ferguson’s response in the wake of Eric Cantona’s karate kick on a fan was only to tamely reprimand the Frenchman’s behaviour.

Managing egos has become a crucial aspect for any manager or head coach. To get to the top you have to stand up and be counted on when it matters most. To take the winning shot, to suppress the nerves, to be a big match player in front of thousands of people and do it time and time again requires a steely nerve and supreme self-belief in one’s own ability.

Few could reasonably doubt that at least some ego is necessary to reach the pinnacle of sporting success. However, all too often, an innate self-confidence imbues the athlete with the desire to push into unchartered territory in relation to their own ability. This can lead to the great sporting feats that mark generations. It can also lead to the player providing diminishing returns.

Butler was supposedly the culture changer that Vice President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau needed

Butler is far from anywhere near that fatal stage yet. But his belief in his own necessity- which he so powerfully made owner Glenn Taylor aware of on his return- would indicate that Butler may be overstating his own value.

The Timberwolf was traded from the Bulls just over a year ago, with the Windy City franchise fearing that his personality had outgrown the development of his game. In other words, he was not as good as he thought he was, and the hassle he caused was not worth the value he could provide on the court.

Things were meant to be different in Minnesota, though. Paired with the highly impressive Karl Anthony-Town (KAT) and highly touted although underperforming Andrew Wiggins, Butler was supposedly the culture changer that Vice President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau needed to provide the talented duo with the platform and drive to reach the lofty standards set by Butler.

Since Butler’s arrival, KAT’s stats have simply not taken the leap in the way Thibodeau would have liked

KAT was already heralded as one of the league’s foremost rising stars on the draft day when the Bulls and the Timberwolves sealed a deal that sent Butler to Minnesota in exchange for Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and draft pick swaps that saw the Bulls pick up Lauri Markkanen.

However, since Butler’s arrival, KAT’s stats have simply not taken the leap in the way Thibodeau would have liked. The centre has yet to miss an NBA game in his career, and just before Butler joined the franchise, Towns enjoyed the most successful season of his career, averaging 25.1 points per game on an average of 18 shots per game.

However, with Butler in the fold this term, the 22 year-old is taking just 13.6 shots per game and is averaging less points per game than he did in his first season in the league.

Butler finds himself in the role of villain in the team he should have been leading

This decline could conceivably be due to the fact that, with Butler kicking rocks and trying to force a way out of Minnesota as the franchise wouldn’t commit to his desires, the Timberwolves threw a max contract extension at their young centre, who has reportedly stated that he would only sign the extension on the basis that Butler was out of the roster.

Hailed as the culture changer, Butler has been anything but.

Now, Butler finds himself in the role of villain in the team he should have been leading, trying to force his way to any franchise who would be prepared to roll the dice on a one year rental for a soon to be 30 year-old free agent who will be asking for max money this off-season, with little to no chance that he could bring back a title in the short term.

He has crossed the boundary from positive egotism into the area of no return

Butler is the ticking time bomb that is being passed from franchise to franchise, with everyone believing they can defuse it, until there’s one second left and no-one wants to be the one left holding the pin.

He has crossed the boundary from positive egotism into the area of no return.

He’s not yet reached the levels to which Carmelo Anthony’s ego dwarfs his value, but he’s still more Mario Balotelli than he is Cristiano Ronaldo.

When free agency comes around this summer, there’s only thing Butler should leave behind if he’s to secure a better and more successful future – and that’s his ego.

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