Editor’s note: In honor of Jimmy Butler’s new media day hairdo, we are recirculating this piece, originally published during the Heat’s most recent playoff run, on Butler’s legendary 2022 media day look.
Bam Adebayo was in Amsterdam last summer thumbing through his Instagram feed when he came upon Jimmy Butler’s post.
Butler, wearing a black T-shirt from Ice Cube’s The Predator album, spins in a barber’s chair six times, each revolution revealing one more step of his transformation: from braids to a loose afro to, finally, blond-tipped dreadlocks stacked in a bun on top of his head. The video ends with Butler staring at the camera, lips pursed, as if daring you to say something. “Dread Head Jimbo,” Butler says when walking up to a mirror. “I like this look.”
“It kind of shocked me,” Adebayo tells The Ringer now.
Gabe Vincent was in Los Angeles when he saw the post.
“Nah, it’s probably Photoshopped,” he thought.
Like so many others who saw the video, Bam’s first question was whether the dreadlocks were real. His second question was why. So he called his teammate to ask him both.
“I felt like it,” Butler told Adebayo. “[And] it’s real.”
“That’s Jimmy for you,” says Haywood Highsmith. “Living his life, doing whatever he wants to do, doesn’t care what anybody else thinks.”
Or, in Adebayo’s words: “Stay petty so you ain’t gotta get petty.”
For Jimmy Butler, petty is his natural state. It’s the one he perpetually exists in. Some, even his own teammates and friends, call him a troll. Those around him confirm that his outward-facing persona is the same as how he behaves in his private life, only perhaps a bit dialed down.
Explaining why Butler does something is almost as difficult as explaining how the Heat went from being a fringe playoff team to being three wins away from the Finals. But Butler trolled along the way.
When the Heat were 2-5, Butler claimed they would “win the fucking championship.” At three games over .500, he blasted Nickelback in the locker room in Orlando. On the eve of the Eastern Conference finals, Butler claimed, “This year is our year.” And because Butler wore the dreadlocks at media day, that hairstyle has been featured in his image on the NBA’s official website through all the ups and downs of Miami’s season.
As Butler and the Heat square off against the Boston Celtics in these Eastern Conference finals, it’s worth revisiting the character who started it all and has become, quite literally, the most lasting image of Miami’s season.
This is the untold story of Jimmy Butler’s dreadlocks.
“I don’t have any extensions,” Butler told a reporter at media day in late September. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Butler sat in a white Heat jersey, dreadlocks cascading past his shoulders, as he fielded questions from assembled media before the Heat’s season. One reporter asked whether he’d play power forward. Another asked whether he’d shoot more 3s. One pressed him on the lack of offseason additions after the Heat ran back the same group sans P.J. Tucker. But the most important questions were whether this would be Butler’s look for the full season and whether the dreadlocks were real.
“It’s still up to debate whether I’m going to keep my hair like this or not,” said Butler, who declined to speak to The Ringer for this story because he doesn’t do interviews during the playoffs. “They are not extensions.”
Except, they were.
Butler had them installed nearly three months prior to media day, on July 5, by his hairstylist, Jessica “Diamond” Dart. She’s been working with Butler since his first season with the Minnesota Timberwolves and is responsible for most of Butler’s ever-evolving hairdos over the last six years. Diamond is part of Butler’s entourage that travels from city to city during the season. On their trips, Butler will sometimes ask about new looks.
“He has some crazy requests,” Dart says.
One of them: the Jheri curl.
“That was actually the one in the running with the dreadlocks,” Dart says. “But it’s not healthy [for hair], … and it’s old.”
But the dreads? “That was actually doable.”
Butler had been wearing his hair in braids leading up to the makeover, but he didn’t have enough hair to make natural dreadlocks. Dart told Butler she could order extensions and give him dreadlocks without damaging his hair or making them permanent if he eventually wanted to remove them. The notoriously competitive Butler was skeptical.
“He’s like, ‘All right, bet.’ So it became a challenge for me from him,” Dart says. “I don’t think anybody was really super serious until the moment I actually had the extensions and I was like, ‘OK, I’m ready whenever you are.’
“I think we were all kind of just like, ‘Yeah, this is happening.’”
But it wasn’t enough for Butler to just get the extensions—it had to be even more over the top. So he rented a place in the Hamptons, invited his friends, brought his Bigface baristas, and hired a production crew to film the hair session.
“He’ll tell you that, ‘If I’m going to do it, I might as well do it big, might as well just go all out,’” Dart says.
Butler wore Timberlands for the occasion and mixed New York rap into his usual playlist of country music.
“I think he had a Harlem, New York, kind of swag in his head,” Dart says. “That’s where the Timberlands came from. But no one but Jimmy can give you a full reason for what he does.”
The process took nearly six hours. Dart colored the extensions, which she ordered from a colleague in Los Angeles, before washing and prepping Butler’s hair. As Dart worked, the crew took breaks to film each step. Butler drank coffee, got up to choose the music, and danced in front of the cameras.
“With Jimmy, he does not sit the whole time and do nothing,” Dart says. Whenever she’s working on Butler’s hair, she has to make arrangements so that he’s not glued to a chair in a salon. He likes to be comfortable and be able to play dominoes or cards while she’s working. She also knows that she isn’t getting anything done before 8 a.m. because Butler earmarks those hours for basketball. “He works whether it’s summertime or not.”
Butler spent last summer traveling—Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, New York—and had a different look for each place. He styled the dreadlocks down for Colombia and had them up in a ponytail in New York. Wherever he was, he played basketball and got a chance to test-drive the dreadlocks to see how they would feel in a game. But it got to the point where Butler knew they would be too much to deal with while playing, and he eventually removed the dreadlocks before Miami’s first preseason game.
However, Butler had a goal in mind before then: to wear the dreadlocks to media day.
“It was absolutely big for him,” Dart says, confirming that Butler’s goal was for his dreadlocks to appear in promotional materials for the rest of the season. “That was the end of our ride with the dreads.”
So in late September, a week before the start of the preseason, Butler brought Dart to Miami for some touch-ups. In addition to talking with reporters on media day, players are shepherded around to take pictures, film promotional videos, and conduct interviews that will be used throughout the season by the team and the league. Like wardrobe changes during a Beyoncé concert, Butler had Dart style his hair differently between interviews. She estimates they went through three or four different dreadlock hairdos, each taking five to 10 minutes to style.
The final style, the one that shows up on the NBA’s official site, had been planned for months. After initially using the photo, ESPN eventually switched to a dreadlocks-less image of the Heat star, which Butler took exception to, telling For the Win, “You’re supposed to be using my media day picture. Put my hair back the way that it was.”
Butler wore the dreadlocks down, and Dart styled them wavy for dramatic effect. Butler, clean-shaven, mean-mugged in his photo. Voilà.
This was also the style Butler had when he spoke with reporters.
“I’m trying out a lot of new looks. Y’all like my baby-faced assassin look? It’s kinda cute, isn’t it?” Butler asked. “I’m kinda messing with stuff to make the internet mad. That was my goal this summer, and it worked.”
“We knew it was going to be a big deal,” Dart says. “It ended up being a way bigger deal than we imagined it to be.”
Social media had a field day with Butler’s photos. There were comparisons to Eminem’s friend Mekhi Phifer in 8 Mile and Bob Marley, for instance. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said, “There might not be a bigger troll in the NBA than Miami’s Jimmy Butler.”
Going viral wasn’t necessarily the goal, though. For Butler, it was more about the challenge and trying something new. His photos with the dreadlocks will always represent this specific chapter of his life and career.
“When he thinks something is off the wall, he’ll want to try it,” Dart says. “He doesn’t just try things because he wants to go viral.”
As his teammates, friends, and family will attest, Butler doesn’t care what people think. He’s willing to put his personality out there and challenge expectations. As an All-NBA second-team selection averaging 32 points in the playoffs, he’s also able to back it up.
But it wasn’t always this way. From Chicago to Minnesota to Philadelphia, Butler’s bellicose personality burned out organizations in short order. Butler didn’t last two full seasons with either the Wolves or Sixers.
“He didn’t seem happy,” Dart says, recalling when she first met Butler after he was traded from the Bulls to the Timberwolves. “Dealing with him now and dealing with him then, there’s a whole different him. And this him, it’s amazing. It’s something you want to breathe in because you can see that he’s free and he’s happy. And he’s able to work his ass off with people who work their asses off the same way he’s working his ass off.”
In Miami, Butler is part of an organization of like-minded basketball lifers. Hard work, sacrifice, and a little hostility might as well be in the Miami Heat’s mission statement. He shares a locker room with Udonis Haslem, Kyle Lowry, Adebayo, and seven undrafted free agents who have, like Butler, had to scratch and claw for everything they’ve gotten in the NBA.
“He is us, and we are him,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Butler scored 42 points in 46 minutes in Miami’s overtime win to eliminate the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. “Sometimes, the psychotic meets the psychotic.”
Off the court, Butler surrounds himself with family and friends. Creating a production around Dread Head Jimbo was as much about doing something fun as it was about involving those around him.
“He’s a team player,” Dart says.
“He’s full of surprises,” adds Vincent.
“It probably says a lot that he’d sit in that chair for four or five hours,” Highsmith says. “He just wanted to go all out for the joke, I guess.”
If Dread Head Jimbo taught us anything, it’s that Butler doesn’t do anything halfway. From the court to the salon chair, he knows only one way: Go big or go home.
For a Heat team trying to advance one more round in these playoffs, this message is befitting.
“You can’t deny him for who he is and what he is,” Adebayo says. “And what he is is an incredible player.”
Wes Goldberg has written for the Miami Herald, Mercury News, Bleacher Report, Forbes, and more. You can hear him on the Locked on NBA and Locked on Heat podcasts.