Ball Don’t Lie: Jimmy Butler and the Minnesota Teen Wolves

In the latest installment in our occasional Gothic NBA Fan-Fiction Series, Jimmy Butler finds himself in a hairy situation.
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Illustration by Griffen Eckstein.

The full moon is high over the Greek island of Mykonos, gorged white light spilling down across the calm Aegean Sea. Inland and higher up, in the ruins of the Temple of Hercules, Jimmy Butler sits on a chunk of dusty marble and looks forlornly out at a writhing mess of dancers moving in time with the throbbing bass. The D.J., in a tank top and nighttime sunglasses, waggles a fist weirdly above his head.

Butler was enjoying his summer vacation in Italy, alone save for the nagging sense of regret that had been his constant companion since his Timberwolves were ousted from the playoffs by the Rockets. Ironic, then, that he should find himself here, at a rave in the Cyclades at the invitation of none other than James Harden, the man primarily responsible for that ouster.

Harden has invited him here every year since he suddenly left OKC, which was when he began to watch Jimmy with a newfound interest. At first, Jimmy assumed Harden was trying to recruit him to the Rockets but at that point he had no interest in leaving Chicago. That was until Robin Lopez took Jimmy aside after a particularly gruelling game back in 2016, back when Jimmy felt like he’d stopped improving and was sure he was being shipped to Orlando. Lopez looked all kinds of crazy, smelled like a wet dog and wouldn’t stop scratching his ears, but Jimmy assumed that was how he always behaved after games. Lopez promised to train with him, take him under his wing, but first, was Jimmy interested in going for wings?

Jimmy had woken early the next morning under the Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park, the new moon still bright on the gleaming distended bean of the sculpture. Butler stared at a reflection that couldn’t possibly be his own. He screamed, as anyone would in such a situation, and he heard a funny kind of howl. That was the moment...

And then, in the dense and salty Greek night, James Harden appears, breaking free from the crowd to come smirking over to Jimmy and sitting with a heavy exhalation beside him. In the moonlight, Harden’s very white teeth glinted with a sinister force.

“Why the long face?” Harden asks, chugging something red from an ancient urn.

Jimmy shrugs, shifting his eyes out to the sea. “I just can’t get over it, we were supposed to be a better team. I was supposed to make them a better team.”

“You can’t dwell on it, that’s why I invited you here. To get your mind off what was and think about what could be, what’s next.”

Jimmy takes a look at Harden and sees a familiar glint in his eyes, now turning golden. Cautiously, he asks, “What do you mean?”

Dark clouds that had been covering the moon suddenly shift, and the renewed light bursts down on the ruins where the bodies in the crowd have grown taller, more muscular, hairier.

“Have you ever thought, Jimmy, what could happen if you had a whole team of…” he trails off, his eyes fixed on the sinewy group of werewolves now losing their shit to hard trance, including a pogoing Robin Lopez right in the middle, “us?”

Jimmy Butler turns to James Harden and though he knows he is looking at a near mirror of what his own face now looks like, he can’t help but look away. Even as a werewolf, Harden really needs to do something about that beard. It’s unbecoming.

“No, James,” Butler says. “It would unbalance the league.” It’s too much, he thinks, looking at the beard. It’s like inexpensive carpeting.

Harden’s laugh comes out as a bark, “Is that a joke? League parity?” He chugs some more from the ancient urn, a drop spilling onto Jimmy’s arm. He sniffs it. Not blood, as he’d suspected, but something saltier—red Gatorade. Gross.

“Whatever,” Harden shrugs, “just admit you want all the glory.”

“I just want to be recognized for my unmatched work ethic and relentless drive,” Jimmy says, "that’s all. I can lead the team back to the top on my own.”

Bored, James Harden stands. “You’re killing my vibe.” He’s already dancing his way back to the crowd, “Suit yourself!”

***

“What would Jimmy Butler do?” Jimmy Butler asks himself in the mirror, eyeing his perfect and notably tall hair, his always intent and focused eyes, his elongating canines.

Behind him, toward the locker room, there’s a great commotion—smashing glass, music getting cranked, raucous laughter, skateboard wheels grinding against something they shouldn’t—but Jimmy stares intently at his own reflection. He likes to watch the change happen if he can. To him, it’s proof of his body functioning as the finely tuned machine he built it to be. Also his hair is really looking phenomenal.

Transformation complete, Werewolf Jimmy Butler reluctantly turns from the mirror and makes his way toward the locker room. Because he is not a quitter, he is going to give it one last shot. But because he is not a loser, he is not going to beg them.

The smell of weed and wet dog and spray paint hang heavy in the tunnel before he even steps through the locker room door, a noxious cloud indicative of only one thing: Teen Wolves. Jimmy scrunches his sensitive snout to the olfactory mise-en-scène and thinks back to the island of Mykonos and the Temple of Hercules where he stood just last summer under the Cycladic moon, the one place he felt truly himself. A calm falls instantly over him. He enters the change room and expertly dodges a spitball aimed directly at his head.

“You missed! Your aim sucks, dude.” A voice hoots.

There’s a snarl and the snapping of a wet towel then a yelp, “Think it sucks now?”

Jimmy Butler steps through the haze to find Andrew Wiggins, wearing a soaking wet t-shirt of that idiotic adult cartoon, what is it? Jimmy thinks, Mick and Sporty? Are they doctors? He doesn’t have time for this. Wiggins is lying sprawled across a bench on his back and Karl-Anthony Towns is standing with each foot on a separate skateboard and some kind of video game controller dangling from around his neck. Both are werewolves, both are vaping.

“Gentlemen,” Butler nods at them. Neither responds.

Slowly, so slowly that Jimmy Butler has some serious concerns that all this weed is doing some permanent damage, Wiggins raises his 7-11 jumbo-sized straw to his mouth and attempts to blow another spitball at him. Jimmy flicks the straw out of the underperforming wing’s mouth with one deftly aimed claw. “Really?” He asks.

Wiggins just shrugs and lays his head back down on the bench. The steam from all the turned on showers is coiling into the room, making the younger Wolves’ fur matted and damp. Amateur tags that read JIMY SUX and XBOX spray-painted on the walls drip down in blue and neon green rivulets to tiles below. Spent cans of spray paint are everywhere.

“Alright, listen,” Jimmy claps his hands together, “I know we’ve been through it, and been through it, and I’m starting to sound like a broken record to you all but—”

All of a sudden Jimmy is cut off by the screeching distortion of an electric guitar. He turns to find Justin Patton obnoxiously shredding some kind of lazy, snotty riff, nothing at all well practiced. Patton’s hulking, lanky frame made lankier and more hulking by the change as he perches atop an amp like a gargoyle. Now KAT is doing some kind of dance to the riff where he flings his long arms out to the side, then across his body to the other side, then back, like he’s some kind of human tooth and he’s flossing himself. But no, none of these young men ever think of their hygiene.

“Oh, Justin, not you too,” he sighs. This was a mistake. Not just this last attempt at reconciliation, which was also a mistake, but turning these kids in the first place. He should have known that Harden had only been trying to trick him—to stock the league with more furious young werewolves and make the Timberwolves franchise so unstable in the process that it would splinter apart, leaving Harden free to harvest the new pieces for his own, aging Rockets.

Butler had at least given them the choice when he sat the young Timberwolves down that summer after meeting Harden in Mykonos, at which he arrived tanned and with an entirely new European wardrobe. They had been eager, excited, but too soon he realized they had only assumed becoming werewolves would be a hairy shortcut to the top, or at least a ticket to Houston. And with the way Thibodeau had handled things…it was no wonder Jimmy had a pack of juvenile delinquents on his clawed and exceptionally talented hands.

And so Jimmy bids them adieu to raucous barks of laughter, reaching down to slice a long claw through the knot Towns has invariably tied in the laces of his Italian loafers before he turns to go. There’s defeated “Hrmph” from behind him and another spitball that goes whistling past his ear, and then he is enveloped by the steam from the constantly running showers. He cannot think of the hot water bill, not now.

Jimmy finds Tom Thibodeau in his office, poring over a stack of plays from 1989 that he recently had laminated.

“I’m leaving,” Jimmy tells him.

Thibs doesn’t look up and waves a dismissive hand, “Heard this before.”

“I mean it this time, I’m going.”

“Not what your contract says,” Thibs shrugs.

“I’ve honored the contract. You asked me to come here and change this team, and I did.”

Thibodeau finally looks up. “You ever look in the mirror, Jimmy?”

“Every day.” Jimmy nods earnestly.

“So you know these guys look nothing like you.” Thibs suddenly stands—though the difference is not that great—and slams his fists down on the desk, “They’re Teen Wolves, Jimmy! You promised me the real thing!”

Jimmy Butler brings a manicured claw down to the pile of laminated plays and skewers it through. Thibs gasps. “You ever wonder why they turned out this way, why they look and talk like they do, why they’re interested in skateboards, electric guitars, boom boxes, letterman jackets?”

“Those things are enjoying a real renaissance.” Thibs sputters. “That’s the way fashion works.”

Jimmy shakes his head, “Wake up, Tom. I told you, when the change takes hold the body needs discipline. Needs authority. But you’re in here every day living out your glory days with these outdated plays. I told you to project, I told you to think like Brad. Be progressive!”

“I hate Brad Stevens!” Thibodeau screams, reaching around and shoving everything he can off his desk, which in the end cleared only a very small area, “You’re staying, Butler, you’re staying until these Teen Wolves turn into Man Wolves! You may be right! I may be crazy! But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for!”

Jimmy Butler knows all too well that when Tom Thibodeau starts parroting lines from Billy Joel’s Glass Houses album that the conversation is over. But there’s something he’s never tried before…

Jimmy flicks off the light switch, “Turn out the light,” he sings quietly, perfectly in tune, “Don’t try to save me. You may be wrong for all I know…”

Jimmy stops. There’s a long pause and he wonders if this will really work or if he’s going to be stuck here, just like The Kid in Purple Rain, for the entirety of the three-hundred-and-some-odd year prime of his career. But then Thibs sits and folds his hands in front of him on the desk and says, quietly, nodding his head in assent, “But you may be right.”

Jimmy flicks the light back on and Thibodeau looks up at him, as if seeing him for the first time. He sighs. “Alright, I’ll draw up the deal. Give me your top two and I’ll try my best to get you there.”

Butler doesn’t need any time to think about it—he’s been planning this move ever since he slipped on both of KAT’s two skateboards at training camp. He reaches out a hand and Jimmy extends a very long arm across the room and over the desk, careful to retract his claws as much as he can when they shake. The last thing this league needs is a stubborn coach who sticks around for a millennia longer than he should.

***

Driving across Biscayne Bay, Jimmy Butler checks his look in the convertible’s mirror and grins, the South Florida sun glinting off his canines. He has just arrived in Miami and rather than wait to get settled, he has insisted the rest of the team meet him at Dwyane Wade’s house for a welcome BBQ. With the ink barely dry on his new contract and the Minneapolis ice still melting on his bespoke luggage in the trunk, Jimmy feels there’s no time to waste.

Everyone assumed he picked the Heat because of the team’s location and Pat Riley’s stern methods—and, yes, both were partially true. There’s always been a large swamp werewolf population in South Florida and the Heat are known for their rigorous system, and Riley himself was no stranger to the occult. Indeed, with known warlock Goran Dragić on the team, Jimmy knew he would have little difficulty in compelling Riley that the time was ripe to bring Butler in to start a new, spooky system of his own.

And so, humming the theme song of "The Hills" to himself as he arrives in his new city, Jimmy pulls into Dwyane Wade’s driveway. The verdant manicured foliage, the subtle water gardens and tasteful Roman busts dotting the lane—it’s perfect. Jimmy knows refined, mature taste when he sees it. He knows when someone has been to Europe, he can see when the old world has touched a soul.

This team will be different when given the gift, he knows it. They won’t squander it as the young so often do. No, this aging, retirement-adjacent group will treat this dark gift with the appropriate respect. A ticket to the playoffs, yes, but also a regular gym routine, semi-frequent meditation retreats, team-building exercises, a healthy internal discourse. Some tickets to an occasional wine tasting tour of Tuscany wouldn’t hurt. That would be nice.

Dwyane Wade is walking down the driveway toward Jimmy, smiling, and behind him Jimmy spies the always warm Wayne Ellington, the wise Dion Waiters, the conversational Hassan Whiteside, and... Kelly Olynyk. That’s not right. Jimmy makes a mental note to ask Olynyk to take one of Wade’s Jet Skis over to the mainland to pick up some basketballs at the arena before dusk.

But that’s for later. Jimmy Butler removes his supple Italian leather gloves and reaches out to shake Wade’s hand. His expertly sharpened claws, recently professionally buffed to a high sheen, extend alongside.


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