Being the new kid in town can be tough. With this in mind, Kids Foot Locker made a few introductions this holiday season. One of those involved the brightest new star athlete in Minneapolis, Jimmy Butler.
"New Kid in Town" is a three piece series focused on partnering an NBA player that shifted area codes with a kid who did the same in their respective city. Like Butler, 11-year-old Aaron King also moved from Chicago to Minneapolis this past year. He now attends St. Louis Park Middle School, where he enjoys playing football and basketball, and is quickly adjusting to life up North like his new friend.
AT MALL OF AMERICA, on one of the first cold nights in mid-November, Jimmy and Aaron meet for the first time. Butler gives him a bag full of brand new Jordan gear to rock and the two spend time getting to know one another over mini golf and rides at Nickelodeon Universe, including the Log Chute.
“I was scared bro, I can’t swim,” says Butler. “I asked for a life jacket but they didn’t have one.”
On the fourth level of the mall in the Executive Center, I sat down with Butler and King to discuss what it’s like being the new kid in town.
“It was hard because I knew most of my friends in Chicago since kindergarten,” said King. But things are good in his new living situation and he’s happy to be in Minnesota starting a new chapter in his life. “I was just really surprised,” King says about getting to meet Butler instead of a kid his own age like he thought would happen.
“It was fun,” Butler says about their afternoon together. “I got to spend some time with Aaron, who is new in town just like I am. We talked about the difference between Chicago and here and how it’s kind of challenging going from something that you’re really used to, to something that you’re not.”
“I think it’s cool for everybody to realize that even though something is new and challenging, it doesn’t mean you give up and you quit and you just want to go back to your old ways. Because in life, things are going to hit you that you’re not used to that you’re going to have to find your way out of. I think going to a new city and not being in your comfort zone around all of your old friends, it’s tough, especially for an 11-year-old. But he said he’s doing phenomenal with it.
Me, at 11-years-old, I don’t know how I would handle it. I was quiet. I could barely speak to anybody. But he’s telling me he’s already making new friends and that’s the first step. I can only imagine how he feels, but I think basketball makes it easier for me because it’s something that you can have in common with any and everybody. He’s doing a phenomenal job of adjusting.”
BUTLER KNOWS ALL ABOUT MOVING. He grew up in Tomball, Texas, and played a year of college basketball for Tyler Junior College (Texas) before transferring to Marquette University in Milwaukee. After six seasons in Chicago, he now calls Minneapolis his new home away from home after a blockbuster trade on draft night reunited him with his former coach, and trusted mentor, Tom Thibodeau. His best advice to kids like Aaron King who have to move states at a young age is simple.
“Always be you,” says Butler. “There are going to be people that like you and people that don’t like you. But all in all, you have to be yourself and they’re going to accept you for who you are. You don’t have to change for anybody. You don’t have to pretend to be somebody that you’re not. Be you. Being the best version of you got you this far and he knows that, he’s a smart kid.”
Did either of them have any fears coming to Minnesota? Aaron is shy and clearly worn out from his big day with Butler. He keeps most answers short. “Not really,” he says. Everything has been good in the six (now seven) months he’s lived in Minnesota. And what about Butler?
“I’m not scared of anything,” he says confidently before shedding a slight smirk. “I’m like superman, I ain’t scared of nothing. I’m good though because I keep my guys around me. I was lucky enough to bring them from Chicago with me. It’s just another home away from home.”
What has been the biggest adjustments on and off the court for Butler? True to his nature, he doesn’t sugarcoat anything.
“Off the court, we live in the middle of nowhere,” says Butler. “That’s a big adjustment compared to where I live in the offseason; Sunny ol’ LA, oh how I miss you. On the court, it’s not really an adjustment. It’s just about finding ways to win. Coming in here trying to change the habits of what they had to where they want to be and where they want to end up. So, day in and day out, it’s all about winning and creating those winning habits.”
Aaron’s biggest adjustment has been making new friends and teammates, as one could expect. He says the process has been OK thus far and that sports can help bring friends together. For Butler, the transition to Minnesota has been easier for a variety of reasons. Teaming back up with old friends like Thibodeau, Taj Gibson, and Aaron Brooks is one of the ways it’s eased the burden on him.
“Yeah it is easier because I know what Thibs expects,” Butler says. “I know what I’m going to get out of Taj. You know I've played with Taj so many years before, but I think once you’ve played in this league for so long you know what everybody does. I know how Jamal [Crawford] plays. I know how Jeff [Teague] plays. So you can start to play to their strengths. It’s different when a rookie is coming in but after you’ve been in the league for so long you understand what everybody’s strengths are on the floor so it’s not that you need chemistry you just have to be prepared to sacrifice some things to make this team great, and I think that’s where I am right now.”
Doing work in the community has always been important to Butler and he plans to continue working with kids moving forward, whether it’s at ACES—an innovative program that provides intentional, project-based curriculum and learning experiences that bring together sports, math, and social-emotional learning for low-income students in grades 4-8 in Minneapolis and Saint Paul—or other places around the Twin Cities.
“It means the world to me because I wasn’t always the person that I am now,” said Butler. “Like I said earlier, I was shy and couldn’t speak well. I couldn’t hold a conversation to save my life, but I was a kid at one point and I know that if I had somebody that was coming around me that I see on billboards or on commercials, or whatever it may be, I’d get excited. I’d want to be that person or be better than that individual at their sport. It means a lot because it’s different than you talking about it. You’re actually doing it. You’re actually out in the community instead of saying ‘hey yeah you know I’m going to go do this or do that.’
I’m the type of person that as much as I do, I don’t want everything to be on camera because it’s not as genuine that way. Like, I don’t do it for the show, I do it because I really love my people, and if you’re good people and you need my help then I’m always going to be there for you. I still do the same thing for the people in Chicago. I’m going to build that same thing here.”
Butler doesn’t have any specific community initiatives planned at the moment, but it’s clear he enjoys working with kids. “I love kids. Kids are the future and they are so smart,” he says. “They are like sponges. Everything you say to them or do for them they never forget. Anything with kids, and we do a lot of the homeless as well, but definitely work with kids.”
THE EVENING ENDS with one last question. I ask Butler what’s the first thing he would teach Aaron, or any other young kid, if he were teaching them how to play basketball. Before the last word comes out of my mouth, he interjects.
“Have fun,” Butler says definitively. “It’s not about making jump shots. It’s not about being able to dribble. If you’re not having fun with what you’re doing, then you’re not going to want to do it for too much longer. Like when parents are constantly like ‘you gotta do this, you gotta do that.’ Just have fun in whatever you do.”
It’s a positive message to end the night. Whether you’re an NBA superstar or an 11-year-old kid, being new in town can be tough.
But Butler’s advice can resonate with all of us: Just have fun.