By: David Gardy Ermann
Jimmy Butler is widely recognized for his indefatigable work ethic and for inspiring his teammates to succeed. Erik Spoelstra, Butler’s head coach on the Miami Heat, referred to it as a “Hall of Fame work ethic.” Kyle Lowry, Butler’s teammate on the Heat since 2021, described Butler as “one of those guys who competes at literally everything. Cards, UNO games . . . he’s just the ultimate competitor.” And Doris Burke, the NBA analyst, explained that there is an “incredible belief Jimmy Butler inspires in the guys around him.”
Butler’s work ethic and competitiveness has helped him to become one of the top players in the NBA. Those individual traits combined with his ability to inspire his teammates to be confident both in their own capabilities and in their own perceptions of the team’s collective ability to achieve success has propelled the Miami Heat to continued postseason success since Butler joined the team four seasons ago. It just so happens that these are fundamental aspects that underpin the psychological concept known as collective efficacy in teams.
Jimmy Butler raises the standard of those around him. He boosts team confidence through an effect called ‘collective efficacy’. David Gardy Ermann shares more on #PlayoffJimmy and the impact he has on the @miamiHEATTweet
The confidence that players have in their team’s capabilities has been termed ‘collective efficacy’ or ‘team efficacy’, and more concretely defined as “a group’s shared belief in its conjoint capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given levels of attainments.” (Bandura, 1997, p. 477.) Those levels of attainments that a team achieves “are the product not only of shared knowledge and skills of the different members, but also of the interactive, coordinative, and synergistic dynamics of their transactions.” (Bandura, 2006, p. 316.)
Accordingly, “a host of factors contribute” to such interactive, coordinative, and synergistic dynamics, including “how well [the team] is led.” (Bandura, 1997, p. 478.) It follows that a strong leader increases his team’s collective efficacy and, ultimately, influences his team’s ability to achieve higher levels of attainment. (Huh, Y., Reigeluth, C., and Lee, D., 2014, p. 4; Northouse, 2004, p. 5.) Higher levels of collective efficacy positively impacts a team’s actions, the amount of effort the team’s players put into a game or other task, and the team’s level of persistence during an individual game and across multiple games or a season. (Fransen, K., Kleinert, J., Dithurbide, L., Vanbeselaere, N., and Boen, F., 2014, p. 122.) In other words, “[t]he higher the sense of collective efficacy, the better the team performance.” (Bandura, 1997, p. 470.)
One study found that “groups with leaders are likely to have higher collective efficacy than that of groups without leaders, which may result in successful group work (i.e. higher performance).” (Huh, Y., Reigeluth, C., and Lee, D., 2014, p. 18.) This relationship between collective efficacy and success is cyclical, meaning that success can lead the players to have a higher collective efficacy belief in their team, which then could lead to more team success, and so on. “[T]he more the players believe in the team’s capacities, the better they perform.” (Fransen, K., Kleinert, J., Dithurbide, L., Vanbeselaere, N., and Boen, F., 2014, p. 122.)
The Miami Heat and Playoff Jimmy Butler
The Miami Heat are entering the 2023-24 NBA season as the reigning Eastern Conference champions, with two NBA Finals appearances in the past four seasons and a high collective efficacy. These recent Heat teams have run through their on-court leader, Jimmy Butler, who is better known during the team’s deep playoff runs by the moniker “Playoff Jimmy”, in recognition of how well he performs in the playoffs.
Although Butler says that the lore of Playoff Jimmy–that he performs better in the playoffs–is “not a thing”, the statistics indicate otherwise as Butler demonstrably improves across the major statistical categories. For example, in the 2022-23 NBA season, Butler averaged 22.9 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game, and 5.3 assists per game, and 1.8 steals per game. In the 2023 playoffs, 26.9 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, 5.9 assists per game, and 1.8 steals per game. Playoff Jimmy is more than just box score statistics, he represents a number of memorable playoff performances, including a pair of 30-point triple doubles against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2020 NBA Finals, 41 and 47 point performances against the Boston Celtics in the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals, and a franchise playoff record 56 points against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the 2023 playoffs.
Playoff Jimmy is a do-it-all player for his team as he finds ways to win and advance through the playoffs. Coach Spoelstra explained that “[h]e is a two-way basketball player. He does so many winning things that I think, unfortunately, when you view maybe a 56-point game, everybody on the outside views that he has to do that every game to impact winning. He understands the levers that contribute to winning. He is doing it on both sides of the floor.” Similarly, retired All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas believes that Jimmy “just tortures everyone during the playoffs” because he “turn[s] into a different player,” a player that “they can’t measure . . . because the player is not going to be in that stat book.”
Players around the NBA recognize what Butler brings to his team in the playoffs. Aaron Gordon, a key member of the Denver Nuggets team that eventually beat the Heat in the 2023 Finals, explained that “Jimmy does everything. . . He does all of the intangible things. . . He does a lot of the game within the game, as well as being really skilled. He’s a difficult cover.” Kevin Love, Butler’s teammate with the 2022-23 Heat, has said of Butler that “He is the best closer in the game” and that “watching [Butler] reminds [Love] of another player that [Love] played with for several years”, alluding to LeBron James. Markieff Morris, Butler’s teammate with the 2021-22 Heat, similarly compared Playoff Jimmy to LeBron James, noting that Butler is “locked in. . . You got guys that turn into different people in the playoffs, like [Butler] and [LeBron James] stand out the most to me. It’s different.”
Longtime Miami Heat player Udonis Haslem, who had been Butler’s teammate on the Heat from 2019-23 praised Butler as both a player and competitor, noted that “the playoffs is when the stakes are the highest and he rises to the occasion.” Likewise, star Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George has been impressed by “Jimmy’s will, his passion, [and] his competitiveness” explaining that the playoffs “is where the dogs come out. Jimmy is a dog.” George continued about Playoff Jimmy that opponents cannot “let him talk his sh*t” because “he’s going to feed into that, he’s going to buy into the sh*t he’s saying, and then there’s no turning back.” Paul George may be right about Jimmy buying into what he is saying, but, more importantly, so do Butler’s teammates. For example, after the 2023 season ended, Kyle Lowry explained that the Heat “were led by one of the best basketball players on this earth, and he instilled confidence in us.” Similarly, Bam Adebayo said that “looking forward” into the 2023-24 and beyond, “I’m always going to believe that we’ve got a chance.” His teammates embody the characteristics, like confidence and grittiness, that make Jimmy Butler so special. Coach Erik Spoelstra put it simply, “[Jimmy Butler] is us and we are him.”
Butler’s teammates certainly believe in their on-court leader and Butler believes in his team. For example, after Max Strus and Caleb Martin combined to shoot 1 for 17 from the field in Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals, Butler expressed his continued belief in his teammates: “I need to say to them, ‘I’m still going to throw you the ball, and if you miss the next ten, if you’re open on that 11th one, I’m still going to throw you the ball, because you’ll never be the reason why we lose. It’s always a group effort. I want you to take the same shots because they are going to be there. We are going to throw you the ball. Stay aggressive because you’ve been the reason that we have won so many games before. You are going to be the reason that we win games now, and that’s never going to change.’” Butler continued to say, “I have a lot of faith in those guys. I’m in their corner, Bam is in their corner, [Erik Spoelstra], Coach Pat [Riley], everybody. So when everybody is in your corner, you only have one job to do: Shoot the ball.”
Each year, Butler expects to contend for the championship. Together, with Butler leading the way, the Miami Heat are confident in themselves and their ability to contend for a championship each season. For example, when the Miami Heat lost to the Lakers in the 2020 Finals, Butler was adamant that “none of the stats matter[ed]” and that the Heat players “don’t play for stats . . . [or] for anything else except for the win.” He vowed that he would “be better, along with everybody else” and that Heat “will be back” after that 2020 loss.
In the 2022 NBA playoffs, the Miami Heat made it to the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost in seven games to the Boston Celtics. After the loss, Butler said “[w]e had enough. Next year, we will have enough and we’re gonna be right back in this same situation and we’re gonna get it done.”
After starting out the 2022-23 season with a 2-5 record, Butler said that the Heat are “still going to win the championship, and I don’t care what nobody says. Count us out. We’re going to win the f*cking championship. I’m telling you. I don’t give a d*mn that we started 2-5.” Not only did he believe in his team, but Playoff Jimmy was already working on inspiring his teammates too. At 2-5, Butler further explained that to succeed, the team needed to “play with a little bit more urgency and realize how fragile this thing is, trust in one another and play basketball the right way on both sides of the ball.” Then when the team had a 10-12 record, Butler promised “Pat Riley, we’re getting your 10th championship.” Even once they made the 2023 playoffs–the Heat found themselves playing on the road in a game 7 matchup against the higher-seeded Boston Celtics, who were carrying the momentum after stringing together three straight wins to tie the series–Butler maintained confidence in his team. “We can do it”, Butler said, “I know that we will do it.” The Heat won that game 7 and the Eastern Conference championship, and Butler was not done yet: “I’m just confident. I know the work that we all put into it, so I know what we’re capable of. Nobody is satisfied. We haven’t done anything. We don’t play just to win the Eastern Conference; we play to win the whole thing.”
The Heat eventually lost to the Denver Nuggets, the top seed from the Western Conference, in the 2023 Finals. Even with that loss, Butler still believes that he and his Miami Heat will win a championship: “I’ve had some helluva teammates come through here and compete with me and give us the opportunity to win a championship, which I still believe, with everything in me, that we will do as a team here, as an organization, as a city in Miami.”
Playoff Jimmy is widely recognized as a strong leader and he influences his team’s ability to achieve playoff success. As Butler continues to inspire belief in his teammates, the team correspondingly continues to perform better.
Damian Lillard and the Miami Heat
Now, entering the 2023-24 season, Butler will continue to seek to win a championship, this time potentially alongside superstar guard Damian Lillard, who wanted to join a team that could contend for a championship and who believes in Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat. Like many other players around the league, Lillard admires the competitiveness that Playoff Jimmy brings onto the court. During an Instagram Live session, Lillard said that “Jimmy is a dog for sure. . . With Jimmy, it ain’t even just skill, it’s will, competitiveness, care, [and] heart.” Then, on June 6, Lillard was a guest on The Last Stand podcast with Brian Custer. Custer asked Lillard about potential trade destinations, to which Lillard replied, “Miami, obviously. . . Miami is the obvious one.” Within weeks of indicating that Miami would be the “obvious” choice destination if he were to leave the Portland Trail Blazers after 11 years with the team, Lillard was rumored to have requested a trade to the Heat, which he later confirmed. Further emphasizing his desire to only play with the Heat is that Lillard’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, reportedly called teams to caution against trading for Lillard because if they did, Lillard would be unhappy on any team other than the Miami Heat..
Earlier in the offseason, Lillard spoke with HoopsHype about, amongst other things, the importance of a championship on his legacy. Lillard explained that a “championship would mean a lot” and is “extremely important” both to him and to his legacy. In an interview with Andscape in August, Lillard expressed that his desire to win an NBA championship is “higher than it’s ever been.”
Perhaps joining Playoff Jimmy and the Heat really is, as Lillard himself previously said, the obvious choice for a player who recognizes the importance of contending for a championship. That will be the expectation by many for the 2023-24 Heat as they get ready to embark on the season, not just from voices outside of the Heat locker room, but it will inevitably be an expectation from the players themselves. That, however, is nothing new for players on a Jimmy Butler-led team, teams that seem to consistently maintain confidence and belief in their collective ability to win a championship.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Co.
Bandura, A. (2006). Guide for Constructing Self-Efficacy Scales. In F. Pajares, & T. Urdan (Eds.), Self-Efficacy Beliefs of Adolescents (Vol. 5, pp. 307-337). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Fransen, K., Kleinert, J., Dithurbide, L., Vanbeselaere, N., and Boen, F. (2014). Collective efficacy or team outcome confidence? Development and validation of the Observational Collective Efficacy Scale for Sports (OCESS). Int. J. Sport Psychol. 45, 121-137.
Huh, Y., Reigeluth, C., and Lee, D. (2014). Collective Efficacy and its Relationship with LEadership in a Computer-mediated Project-based Group Work. Contemporary Educational Technology 5(1), 1-21.
Northouse, P. (2004). Leadership: Theory and Practice. (6th ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
 David Gardy Ermann is a Counsel at FanDuel Group. The information contained in this article reflects the opinion(s) of the author and is not an official opinion of FanDuel Group.