MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Jimmy Butler was standing a few feet away from the stadium court at the Miami Open and surveyed the shelves that were built for his latest obsession.
Rows of coffee mugs were lined up, some black, some white, some with big logos, some with smaller ones. He looked everything over for a couple of minutes, then grinned and deemed everything was exactly to his liking.
“You’re good,” he said to those awaiting his approval.
If tennis players want a shot of espresso or a latte or a cappuccino at the Miami Open, chances are it’ll be Butler providing it for them. The All-Star forward for the Miami Heat — whose obsession with coffee started as a joke of sorts at the NBA’s restart bubble inside Walt Disney World two years ago and has become an actual company since — is bringing his BigFace brand to the player-dining and some VIP areas at the tournament, his largest activation yet.
It made sense on many levels, the least of which is that Butler also just happens to be an enormous tennis fan.
“I think when it’s coming from one professional athlete to another and they see me constantly drinking BigFace coffee, they know I wouldn’t put any B.S. in my body,” Butler said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And I know everybody’s so cognizant of what they put in their body as a professional athlete in whatever sport. I just want to help put the best in front of you and you take it and run with it if you choose.”
He’s serious about this, too.
The story of BigFace started inside the bubble as a cash grab for Butler. Players inside the bubble couldn’t leave, and cash was basically useless inside the Disney property — which was empty except for NBA players, personnel and a few reporters during that period of pandemic basketball. Most purchases were paid for using a wristband equipped with a sensor, which then billed an account linked to a credit card.
But NBA per diem rules still applied, and players, coaches and staffers got envelopes filled with cash like they would to cover meals and incidentals on a regular road trip. Butler noticed that he had exactly $1,020, with one $20 bill in there. So he started out seeking how many coffees he could sell for $20, knowing most players would have a twenty on them.
Word spread quickly.
“As much as the offer was appealing to me, he still was a potential enemy, so I didn’t want to go there,” Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel said during that season’s NBA Finals, when his team faced Butler and the Heat. “But $20 is a lot for a cup of coffee. I don’t know if I would have spent that much, anyway.”
Butler’s bubble coffee rules were simple: Cash only, exact change required. Hence, the term BigFace — lingo for the $100 bill, since Ben Franklin’s image on that denomination is larger than the image of others on smaller bills. Butler knew when he got the $20’s, the $100’s would follow.
“Cash wasn’t a real thing because nobody wanted to touch anything,” Butler said. “I was sitting in my room, thinking about how to be a hustler.”
Thing is, the hustle became a thing. His idea stuck. While some players left their pandemic Amazon-delivered purchases behind in the bubble when that season ended — wine refrigerators, poker tables, giant televisions and more — Butler packed up his coffee equipment and began studying. Types of beans, temperatures, techniques. No detail was too small.
“I give Jimmy a lot of credit,” former Heat teammate Goran Dragic said last year. “He said he was going to learn everything he could about coffee and he meant it.”
Butler, probably not unlike many coffee drinkers, hated the stuff the first time he tried it. He recalls dumping about 20 packets of sugar into that first mug, turning it basically into candy, just to hide the taste.
Over time, his tastes evolved. He was traveling somewhere, decided to try a cup of a specialty coffee and remembers being shocked when he could pick up a faint bit of raspberry. He was hooked. He insists he drinks somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 cups a day, some his brand, some others.
And someday, maybe someday soon, he hopes to make BigFace a destination. He can actually see himself making lattes and doing pourovers. When the Heat hit the road for trips now, Butler travels with his own beans, grinder, kettle and whatever other coffee accessories he needs.
“The perfect cup for me is the cup where I get to learn something about the people I’m having it with,” Butler said.
Butler’s interests are wildly diverse. He loves wine and wants to own a vineyard. He can speak as eloquently on European soccer as he might about most NBA teams. He’s ultra-competitive in everything from dominoes (“they’re how I learned to count,” he said) to tennis to obviously basketball. The Heat currently lead the Eastern Conference, poised to go into next month’s playoffs as a No. 1 seed.
All the so-called extra things in Butler’s life make his basketball better, he insists.
“I need all the different things that I compete in just to level me out,” Butler said. “Too much of any good thing is always a bad thing. I live by that. So, I try to take it piece by piece, day by day, realizing that I do keep the main thing the main thing — that is basketball. I do want to win a championship. We all know that. I do want to be healthy. We all know that. But if I’m too locked in, I forget about everything else, everybody else. And I don’t want to do that.”
With that, he walked behind the counter of his coffee stand, grabbed a drink and took a long sip.
He had a busy schedule awaiting the rest of his day. Caffeine was required.