If You’re Talking About His Hair, This N.B.A. Star Is Winning

Jimmy Butler, a forward for the Miami Heat, has never been concerned with what anyone expects of him. He blasts country music in the Heat’s locker room, irritating most of his N.B.A. teammates. He started his own pandemic-era coffee company, initially charging $20 a cup — for sizes small, medium and large. He also is a ferocious competitor, and he pledged on Monday that he would lead the Heat back to the N.B.A. finals this season.

“This time we’re going to win it,” he said, “and then y’all are going to say we got lucky.”

Mr. Butler, 34, made this bold declaration as he sat on a dais at the team’s media day, an annual rite of passage before the start of training camp in which players speak with reporters. But nothing he said seemed to matter as much as what he wore — he appeared to have pierced his eyebrow, lip and nose, and his hair was in a straightened fringe vaguely reminiscent of André 3000’s “Hey Ya!” hairdo.

Mr. Butler, however, seemed to have found inspiration in a different musical genre.

“I’m emo,” Mr. Butler said with a faux glower as he brushed his bangs across his forehead. “This is my emotional state. I’m at one with my emotions, so this is what you get.”

To be clear: It was neither Mr. Butler’s regular look nor one that anyone expected to stick around once the cameras were off. In fact, before the start of last season, he showed up in dreadlocks, which he claimed at the time were his real hair. (They were not.) Mr. Butler typically has his hair in braids or coifed in an Afro taper fade.

Mr. Butler was peppered with questions about his team, his hair and Miami’s failed pursuit of Damian Lillard.Credit…Sam Navarro/Getty Images

In other words, Mr. Butler enjoys being a provocateur. And he appeared to acknowledge as much on Monday during a photo shoot with his teammate Bam Adebayo, who was flummoxed by Mr. Butler’s facial accouterments.

“The whole lip ring is annoying,” Mr. Adebayo told him.

“Look,” Mr. Butler said, “I’ve got to stay in character.”

Intentional or not, Mr. Butler’s appearance helped to distract from questions about the team’s muted off-season. In addition to losing two key players to free agency — Gabe Vincent and Max Strus — Miami was unable to swing a deal for Damian Lillard, a superstar point guard the Heat had coveted.

It is probably worth noting that Mr. Butler was not pleased with that turn of events. Mr. Lillard, after all, had reportedly professed a desire to land in Miami. But after the Portland Trail Blazers traded Mr. Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks, Mr. Butler suggested on Instagram that the N.B.A. should “look into the Bucks for tampering.” (Tampering refers to improper negotiations between players, coaches or team executives.)

Mr. Butler’s self-described emo look could have had something to do with his feelings about the Lillard situation — or not. With Mr. Butler, it is impossible to know. Because here’s the thing: Not even his teammates know.

“If this is a phase he’s going through at 34, you have to let him go through his phases,” Mr. Adebayo said. “We all go through our emo phases.”

At last year’s media day, Mr. Butler had shown up with dreadlocks that he insisted were real. They were not.Credit…Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

A six-time N.B.A. All-Star, Mr. Butler is as talented as he is inscrutable. He values his privacy. He seldom discusses his personal life — in an interview with Rolling Stone he brushed off rumors that he is dating the pop star Shakira — though he does offer glimpses. On Monday, for example, he spoke about his friendship with the Irish musician Dermot Kennedy — “That’s my brother through and through,” Mr. Butler said — and about how much he enjoyed visiting China this summer as part of a promotion tour for the Chinese sneaker brand Li-Ning.

“I got to sing a lot of karaoke, which means the world to me,” he said, “because I don’t get to do that often here.”

He also expressed optimism about the season ahead. Last season, the Heat, who had barely made the playoffs, engineered upset after upset before losing to the Denver Nuggets in the N.B.A. finals.

“It’s always been about a championship for me,” Mr. Butler said. “It will always be that for me, nothing else. And it’s just our year. This is the one. And this one is going to feel real good, by the way.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Butler arrived for the team’s first official practice of the season with his hair back in braids. But fear not: Mr. Butler posed as #EmoJimmy in his official headshot for the season, meaning that glorious hair will soon make an appearance on an arena Jumbotron near you.

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