Charles Barkley is the face of a unique fraternity that no professional athlete seeks membership:
The No Ring Team.
Barkley is one of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team, coming in as the 22nd best player of all time. He has gone on to become one of the most popular, humorous, honest, and perceptive NBA analysts in the business. He proudly has one of the worst golf swings in the history of the sport. And if there’s a card game or roulette wheel anywhere in his area code, Sir Charles will find it.
But Barkley doesn’t have a championship ring. In 16 seasons he scored more than 23,000 points, grabbed more than 12,000 rebounds, despite not standing taller than 6-foot-6 in heels, and dishing out more than 4,000. He was an enforcer and a leader. A brutality tough defender and a verbal fencer with a razor-sharp tip.
But Barkley doesn’t have a championship ring.
Other members of the team no one wants to join are former Jazz teammates Karl Malone and John Stockton, former Knicks center Patrick Ewing, one of Ewing’s nemesis, Reggie Miller, and the fearless Allen Iverson. To say these players were not superstars is folly. But none of them have a ring.
Jimmy Butler’s Broken Path to the NBA
Which brings us to Jimmy Butler. Butler is all-everything forward for the Miami Heat. He was not expected to become a superstar after being selected with the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft out of Marquette,
But no one told Butler. And no one could fathom the relentless desperation that would fuel Butler to this day.
Born in Houston. His father quickly abandoned the family. At the age of 13 his mother tossed him out the house, stating, “I don’t like the look of you. You gotta go.”
He moved from one friend’s home to another before being taking in by one. He stared in football and basketball, sporting a muscular physique that was more man than teenager and certainly ominous. With no Division I scholarship offers out of high school, Butler enrolled in Tyler Junior College where he caught the eye of the Marquette staff.
Two years later he was the 30th pick, guaranteed of nothing. His game was predicated on tenacious defense, relentless hustle. He was force over finesse. He was the bull on the basketball court.
And he worked. He worked like a man running as much from his past and hoping for a better future. He asked for nothing but coiled to take everything.
An Epic NBA Playoff Run
Fast forward to the 2022-23 season. Butler is the heart, soul and spirit of the Miami Heat. It is a perfect match. The Heat have Pat Riley’s DNA through their veins. It would be a match for Butler’s DNA.
The Heat are not one of the more talented teams in the league and Butler is not mentioned with the likes of Giannis or LeBron or KD or Jayson Tatum. But at 6-7, 230 pounds, with a hairy eyeball that might intimidate a hardened beat cop, who would you choose to walk down an alley with at night?
Whatever Butler lacks in pure skill he compensates for with a will, drive and relentless pursuit for, well, his very survival. If Butler was not a human, he’d be a Great White Shark, scarred and battered and defending his part of the ocean court.
“My people ask, “Why do you keep doing what you’re doing?” said Butler. “I’m not going back to the life I used to live. That shit is out.
“My competitive edge that shit comes from the fact that nothing was given to me, man. Nothing. I had to go to junior college, I had nowhere else to go and then when I go to Marquette, they was like, “This mother f#$ker ain’t gonna make it.
“So okay. I’m going to show you.”
He won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award in 2015 and led the league in steals in 2021. He’s been a six-time All Star and a five-time second-team All-Defensive Team member.
Butler Has No Co-Star
But Butler has never won a ring and he might not. He really doesn’t have a running mate in Miami. LeBron has Anthony Davis. Tatum has Jaylen Brown in Boston. Giannis has Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez. Nikola Jokic has Jamal Murray. Kevin Durant has Chris Paul.
Butler has – Bam Adebayo?
No wonder that of the eight teams that remain alive in the playoffs, the Heat are +2200 to win it all, the seventh worst odds. Only the Knicks, at +5000
Butler, 33, shows no signs of slowing down. In the 2023 playoffs he led an upset of the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in five games. He averaged 37.6 points per game and set a Heat playoff record with 56 points. It tied for the fourth-highest scoring game in NBA playoff history.
For the Heat to win the title, they will have to upset either the Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers with NBA MVP Joel Embiid. Then there’s the matter of the Western Conference champions.
MVP! MVP! MVP!
Embiid’s odds for winning NBA Finals MVP are +110. Tatum leads the way at +200. LeBron is +650. Butler? He’s at +2800. You can buy a lot of rings – diamond rings – if you put a C-note on that wager.
But here’s what sets Butler apart from the No Ring Team. He was not a lottery pick or a one and done or a straight from high school. Greatness was never predicted, no less expected. Butler was never the tallest or highest jumper or deadliest shooter.
He was a force of will; a fire burning every night. He doesn’t need a ring for validation. His life’s work is more than good enough.