Bulls General Manager Gar Forman remembers visiting Tyler (Texas) Junior College, where Butler played as a non-Division I recruit before landing as an under-the-radar player at Marquette, and watching a relentless work ethic.
His off-season trainer, Chris Johnson, recalls Butler waiting outside a Houston gym until D.J. Augustin's workout ended last summer because Augustin had signed a free-agent contract with the Pistons that day.
Joakim Noah relates the game during Butler's rookie season when the seldom-used 30th pick in the 2011 draft was tossed in the fire against Knicks' star Carmelo Anthony.
"He was the difference-maker in that game," Noah said.
All these anecdotes underscore a common theme when it comes to Butler, who capped his nearly unprecedented rise from Tomball, Texas, to NBA All-Star by becoming the first Bull in franchise history to be named the NBA's Most Improved Player.
Butler, who drew 92 first-place votes and landed on 121 of 129 ballots to easily outdistance runner-up Draymond Green of the Warriors, always has believed and bet on himself.
"In winning this award, I think most people see it as looking at Jimmy's numbers and the incredible increase he has had statistically," Forman said. "But those of us around Jimmy each day see it a little differently. We see a great will and determination and an outstanding work ethic and inner drive to succeed. You look back at Jimmy's story and it really is amazing that we're here."
Butler, who also is expected to land on the All-Defense team, increased his scoring average from 13.1 to 20 points per game. His shooting percentage, rebounding and assists averages also all improved.
And he did all this after turning down the Bulls' four-year, $44 million extension offer last October, making Butler a very attractive restricted free agent this summer. The Bulls can match any offer he receives after Butler, well, bet on himself again.
"I think we both won," Butler said. "I did my job and what I'm supposed to do. And they're happy with where I am right now. To be a Bull? I think so. This is the place for me. I love playing with the guys we have. They continue to bring in great, high-character guys who fit the team mold. I'm happy to be here."
His coach is happy to have him.
"He has made a gigantic jump," Tom Thibodeau said. "I believe he's one of the best two-way players in the NBA today. It hasn't happened by accident. The way he has worked is a testament to his character."
Butler credited Buzz Williams, his coach at Marquette who now is at Virginia Tech, for teaching him "your confidence only comes from your work." And he moved through a long list of thank-yous, citing his teammates, coaches at all levels, Forman and executive vice president John Paxson for drafting him, Johnson, Luol Deng for teaching him "how to be a professional" and his fans and family.