We thought we were ready to start shooting. The strobe lights and C-stands were set in their proper positions. The seamless background paper had been unfurled, stabilized and secured to the ground so that when the three Heat players were to arrive inside our designated room (the old WNBA’s Miami Sol locker room), they’d be able to step right on set and begin their cover shoot immediately. It didn’t quite happen that way, though.
On this Monday afternoon in early November, the AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami is bustling with foot traffic throughout its event level hallways. The arena operations crew is breaking down the stage equipment and seating that had been occupying the event floor all weekend when motivational speaker Tony Robbins came to town for four shows in four days. The Heat were on a three-game west coast trip during that period. Workers wheel out sets of chairs and stage equipment through the hallways, preparing the arena for tomorrow’s home game against the Detroit Pistons.
In the midst of all the movement and clamor, we realize that the three official NBA game balls needed for our shoot have yet to arrive to the room when Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro begin walking in. The team’s PR representative quickly steps out to track down the basketballs. Without them, the shoot is on halt.
Jimmy, Bam and Tyler stand around waiting in the meantime. The players’ moods could understandably turn sour at any moment. They’re fresh off practice. They’re probably hungry and/or tired. And standing in the way of food and rest is a photoshoot that is currently on hold until three basketballs arrive on set.
Yet, the mood in the room is everything but sour. Jimmy has decided to take over DJ duties, and now blaring through his phone’s speaker is country music. Lots of it. For the next 20 minutes, we listen to Edwin McCain’s “Walk With You” and Bob Carlisle’s “Butterfly Kisses” and everything in between. Jimmy would later go on to name Luke Bryan, Luke Comb, Jimmy Allen and Kane Brown among his other favorite country artists at the moment. The only time the music genre changes during our shoot is when Bam decides he’s had enough of Jimmy’s country tunes and counters it by playing music on his own phone simultaneously from the opposite side of the room.
“He listens to this one all the time though, bro,” says Bam while shaking his head. “Me? I listen to soul—soul!” He then proceeds to play Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison” while making eye contact with Jimmy and bopping his head. Jimmy smiles back.
Back to the beginning of the shoot, though.
We’re all sitting there listening to Jimmy’s country music playlist while waiting for basketballs to arrive. Suddenly, Butler decides it’s time to begin the shoot—with or without the balls—and simply starts art directing.
He begins by laying on the floor on his left side, with his right arm on his hip and his left arm in a 90-degree angle while resting his head on his hand—encouraging the photographer to snap away. Bam, joining in on the joke, stands behind him and places his right foot on Jimmy’s leg. Tyler, unsure if he is really supposed to participate or just wait for the PR rep to return, decides to stay seated in a nearby locker.
“Come on, T! It’s a photo shoot! Be a part of the team,” a cheerful Jimmy yells.
Tyler gets up and walks over to him. Jimmy changes his pose. This time he lays flat on his stomach, both hands under his chin with his elbows on the floor and his legs kicked up. He sports a huge smile from ear to ear and faces the camera. Bam stands behind him, softly resting his right foot on Jimmy’s back. Tyler stands next to Bam with his two arms out holding peace signs.
Jimmy then quickly gets ups and yells, “Oh, I got it! Look! Let’s do the cheerleading pyramid! I’ll be on top!”
No, the team’s PR rep isn’t back yet. It’s only been, like, a minute. But in the past 60 seconds alone the energy in the room has skyrocketed exponentially. It’s like when the teacher steps out of the classroom for a little bit and the kids in the room decide it’s party time.
Jimmy places his hands on his teammate’s backs, motioning for them to get down so that he could climb on top to complete the pyramid. “Hell no!” yells Bam. A light-hearted debate ensues. Bam argues that Tyler should be on top since he weighs less. Jimmy insists that he wants to be on top—it’s his idea after all. They turn to Tyler to settle the debate. Tyler volunteers to be on the bottom. Jimmy raises both of his arms up, fists pumped in the air. “Ahhh!” Bam disapproves of Tyler’s decision and refuses to participate. Jimmy once again motions for both to get down. Tyler is ready to oblige and begins setting his knees on the floor. And then in walks the team’s PR rep. He’s holding the three basketballs but his attention quickly turns to what his players are trying to do. Jimmy says they must complete the pyramid before the real shoot can start.
“Hey, don’t you remember what we just learned in media training?!” the PR rep tells them, smiling. “Really?!”
“This is a great photo,” Jimmy responds.
“This is not a great photo!” Bam says, laughing.
Jimmy agrees to be on the bottom and lets Tyler be on top, in order to get the photo to finally happen. “Give me an M. M! Give me an I. I!” Jimmy yells.
“I’m telling y’all right now, I do not approve of this,” the PR rep tells the trio while laughing and shaking his head.
It’s a light-hearted moment and everyone gets a good laugh from it. The real shoot will now commence. But in between the jokes lies an obvious truth.
The bond within this team is genuine. It’s not a front. They really click and they’re fun to be around. This trio, specifically, appears to have strong chemistry—especially when you consider that two of them just joined the team this past summer and that they’re barely one month into the regular season when this shoot is happening.
They could have easily lost interest in the shoot while waiting for the basketballs to arrive. It would have been understandable—they were coming off practice after just returning from a west coast trip. They could have just chosen not to interact with anyone until the PR rep returned. They could have just kept to themselves, strictly business and formal, as many NBA shoots are.
But Jimmy is just genuinely too happy at the moment for all of that, and so instead he figures out a way to keep everyone loose and engaged while we wait.
Jimmy chose this destination and couldn’t look more pleased with the decision and where he’s at in life right now. After a couple of years of trying to find himself and where he fits within the team, Bam is primed for a breakout season and the national notoriety he rightfully deserves. And Tyler—after watching many teams on the draft board pass on him last spring, he’s landed in a perfect spot that has allowed him to flourish early on in the season.
It’s a new era in Miami basketball, where the same tough-minded Heat culture continues to thrive, while new faces form a gritty but tight-knit environment that looks to take the franchise into its newest chapter.
Butler raised eyebrows during the summer when he decided to sign with the Heat as a free agent. Miami has missed the playoffs in two of the past three seasons, and three of the past five. Playoff teams like the Clippers and Rockets were rumored to be in pursuit of him, along with the 76ers, who were looking to re-sign him to a max deal. But Butler chose the franchise that had finished 10th in the East last season instead. Haters claimed that winning wasn’t a priority to him and that he didn’t have championship aspirations.
Fast forward four and a half months and Butler has a lot to smile about. He’s already dispelled any of the narratives that his foes tried to spark during the summer. The Heat are 14-5, which is tied for the best start in franchise history through 19 games. Butler has helped bring back a winning culture to South Beach. And a championship is indeed the ultimate goal within the locker room.
So yes, Jimmy Butler has every reason to be smiling from ear to ear while art directing pyramid poses during our cover shoot. He’s found the perfect home. Heat legend Dwyane Wade described Butler in early October as the epitome of “a Miami Heat culture guy.” The hard-nosed, demanding, no-nonsense culture that team president Pat Riley has built goes perfectly with Butler’s intense blue-collar work ethic.
“It’s real and it’s not for everybody,” says Butler of the culture that attracted him to Miami. “But it’s for the three people that are sitting right here. We love it and it’s great to be in the trenches with all the guys we get to be in the trenches with. It’s tough, but when the times really get hard, we know what we can bank on to take us over the edge—whether it be the physical toughness, the mental toughness. Emotionally, we’re ready for any and everything anybody throws at us.”
He continues: “We got a lot of dogs. A lot of guys that feel like they got something to prove. That’s what I’m rocking with. We got people you can talk to, and it might be in a harsh way sometimes, but it’s never personal. You say what you have to say and you move on because y’all still have the same goal in mind and that’s to win. Everybody works relentlessly here. If you don’t, you wouldn’t come here or they wouldn’t bring you here. I think that’s why we all get along so well. We like being around one another because we all think alike, we all work the same, and that’s the common goal. Me and my guys.”
He arrived to the first day of Heat training camp at 3:30 am. The news went viral. For Butler, though, it was just another early morning routine. While appearing as a guest on Vince Carter’s “Winging It” podcast in early November, he noted that he usually goes to sleep at 7 pm on non-game days. When asked about it during our shoot, he confirmed.
“I do, because I wake up so early to work. I don’t really do nothing at night. During the year, [because of] games we play, I go to sleep later. But if we just got practice or something, and it’s not a long day like today is, I’ma sleep,” he says.
“I need my nine [hours of sleep]. It’s not a game. If I don’t get my nine, you can count me out.”
Tyler Herro, meanwhile, is new to all of this. The rookie found himself having to adjust to the Heat culture immediately.
“Oh, we threw him in the fire—day 1! First day of pickup we made him guard Jimmy!” says Bam while bursting into laughter.
Butler and Herro then proceed to debate who won the most games between their respective teams during that practice.
“I was killing you,” says Butler playfully, with a smirk on his face.
“I wasn’t scoring?” Herro responds.
“You weren’t scoring on me!” Butler counters.
The chemistry between the two teammates is glaring, despite the 11-year age difference.
“I think both of them have really been like big brothers to me. Bam, just coming from Kentucky. We’ve had similar paths. And Jimmy, he took me under his wing since this summer and really pushing me and showing me the right ways, giving me confidence and really just putting me in the right spots,” Herro tells SLAM. “They threw me in the fire first day Jimmy was in Miami. Had to guard him in pickup. I thought I did pretty well but they just wanted to see how I would react. They were going at me but it was fun.”
Butler flew Herro into Chicago during the summertime to work out with him. The two quickly developed a bond.
“To tell the truth, it’s been the same shit different day with this kid down here,” says Butler of Herro. “He’s always one of the first ones in the gym. Always one of the last ones to leave. And that’s the marking to the beginning of a true pro—a great player at that. He’s going to continue to be who he is and show why he’s going to be in this League for a long time.”
The work has already paid dividends early on. In only the fourth game of the season, Herro exploded for 29 points against the Atlanta Hawks—the most by a Heat rookie since D-Wade. He’s been one of the most consistent rookie performers in the League thus far this season.
And then there’s Bam—the only returning Heat player of the trio. He’s enjoying the best season of his career so far. As of this writing, he’s averaging 13.9 points, 10.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per game—career-highs in every single category.
He humbly brushes off the numbers. Butler intervenes.
“Don’t be humble, tell them how you do everything well! Because he does. He won’t say it. I’ll say it,” says Butler. “He works super hard and he’s everywhere on the floor. You need him to pass it, he can pass it. He needs to shoot the corner three ball more. He rebounds, he handles the ball, he sets great screens. You can’t take him off the floor. He’s a key part to what we want to do and what we will continue to do. Spo [head coach Erik Spoelstra] knows—in order to win, you gotta have Bam out there on the floor.”
Although the numbers are definitely welcoming for Bam, he’s more interested in discussing the dynamic of this team. He doesn’t answer the question regarding his career-high stats after Butler chimes in. Now in his third year with the Heat, Bam would much rather talk about the transformation he’s witnessed this season among the entire squad.
“This team has more intensity around it. It’s more—I don’t know the word to describe the aura around it but it’s like a lot [more] hype around us. We enjoy each other’s success. I feel like that’s a big thing about us. We’re pure about it. And we’re not scared to talk to one another. Like Jimmy said, it might come off rude, but at the end of the day we all have one goal in mind. It wasn’t like that my first two years,” says Bam. “It was more like our team was kind of cliquey; like three people over here and three people over here. This team, everybody is one whole unit. And that’s how it’s supposed to be.”
Franklyn Calle is an Associate Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @FrankieC7.
Portraits by Atiba Jefferson and via Getty.