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Jimmy Butler helps his Miami Heat teammates bond, one $20 cup of coffee at a time

Jimmy Butler speaks to the media wearing a shirt bearing the name of his business, Big Face Coffee.
(Dan Woike / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning from the NBA’s bubble, where the player who just had one of only three 40-point triple-doubles in NBA Finals history is charging $20 for a cup of coffee out of his hotel room.

Jimmy Butler’s side hustle doesn’t rest — even when his body has to — because Big Face Coffee has customers to satisfy inside the Miami Heat’s section of the Grand Destino hotel.

And even when the Heat give Butler the thing he wants most — a win — he doesn’t give them any favors back.

“I don’t do sales,” Butler said. “I don’t do free coffee.”

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The rules are simple. You want a small latte? Twenty dollars. You want a large cappuccino? Twenty dollars. A medium Americano? Twenty dollars.

Also, no IOU’s.

After the death of George Floyd, the NBA mulled how it could help steer the conversation on racism. Its international players are playing a part.

It’s become one of the fun stories of the NBA bubble, Butler’s on-court performances brewing up as much interest as his pour-overs.

Even acclaimed economists have enjoyed learning about it.

“He could have charged whatever he wants,” professor Pradeep Chintagunta from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business said. “Charging $20 has gotten him the attention.”

Chintagunta, an economist who specializes in marketing, said Butler is essentially functioning like a movie theater that charges customers a premium for snacks because, well, it can.

Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler, right, and Jae Crowder talk between plays during Game 3 of the NBA Finals against the Lakers.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

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“The value that this coffee provides to his audience is probably pretty high. He’s leveraging the fact that the value is high,” Chintagunta said. “He’s not trying to force a person on the street to buy it. This is his target audience and this is what they’re willing to pay, so why not?”

That it’s happening at Disney World — amusement parks make all kinds of money off captive audiences — only makes it better.

Chintagunta, who, like an overbrewed coffee, is bitter that Butler’s no longer with the Bulls, believes the true value in Big Face Coffee is as a brand. Butler is already wearing merchandise with the name and his title (Big Face Coffee owner) and teammates like Goran Dragic now have merch too.

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Sunday’s 40-point triple-double came on the one-month anniversary of Butler filing trademarks for “Big Face Coffee,” “No IOU’s” and a logo.

“It’s actually a very clever way of, essentially, making your name known for something other than the sport you’re playing,” he said.

But here in the bubble, it’s more.

The coffee shops — a Big Face competitor sprung up called Little Face Coffee, run by an assistant trainer — have just been one way the Heat have managed the monotony of the NBA’s bubble.

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“It helps to take your mind away from the game. Gives us something else to talk about, compete at a little bit, and just another way to talk through the game, send over coffee, send over wine, a beer, whatever it may be,” Butler said. “And more than anything, it just brings us together even more because we really do enjoy being around one another.”

Miami executives believe the team’s camaraderie, like the coffee wars, has helped them navigate the trappings of the bubble, and players swear that the team is without cliques.

“In talking to other assistants who have been around the league they say, ‘I’ve never seen something like this,’” Heat forward Meyers Leonard said. “… When we got here, we knew the ultimate goal and we’re all bought in. But the little things, they do matter.”

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The Heat’s connectivity is a reason why they’re in the NBA Finals and why they’ve fought so hard to get back into the series heading into Game 4 on Tuesday. Yeah, they’re talented. And yeah, they’re really smart and competitive, but they’re also very together.

“This group has a connection and a bond that really has grown, I think more importantly where they feel a responsibility to each other,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what plays out on the court, not necessarily that you get along and you’re friends. That makes the experience more enjoyable and memorable, that we’ll remember years from now.

“But it’s that responsibility and accountability. You don’t want to let the guy down next to you. That’s a great quality that this group has.”

The ending of Game 3 could be best described in three words that one never dreamed could be written about the likely future NBA champions. The Lakers quit.

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The Heat and Lakers have talked the most openly about that — the fear of letting down teammates on the court — and it can’t be a coincidence that they’re the two still playing.

Jae Crowder, the Heat veteran forward, said things like Big Face have helped lighten things in a place where his team is being mentally challenged.

“The coffee thing, it helps us just to laugh, just to find laughter in it,” Crowder said. “Obviously it helps us laugh like we’re doing now.”

To his right, Butler stood waiting for his chance to take the stage for his news conference.

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“It’s not a joke,” he deadpanned, his grin eventually sneaking through his mask.

It’s a little bit of everything — a joke, a diversion, a good cup of coffee, maybe a future brand — and another $20 bill for Butler’s pockets.


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