Jimmy Butler had #HeatCulture coursing through his veins before he ever took his talents to South Beach.
His rise from 30th pick in 2011 to NBA All-Star by 2015 had as much to do with physicality, force and determination as it did the skills and stats typically associated with stardom.
His arrival meant Miami wouldn't even miss a half-step during its transition away from Dwyane Wade's #OneLastDance. From the Marquette roots to the relentless attacks to the two-way commitment, Butler seemed the perfect choice to follow in his friend's footsteps.
That's in part what made it interesting to read the first few lines from the initial chapter of Butler's Biscayne story. The four-time All-Star was surprisingly passive to open his Heat career. After missing the first three games of this season for the birth of his daughter, he quietly debuted with 11 field-goal attempts.
Then, he only took 10 the next time out.
There was, of course, a rhyme and a reason behind the approach. He was setting the tone—and embracing the culture—while allowing youngsters like Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson to find their footing. Butler was helping construct an offensive system built around selflessness and trust.
"He really doesn't care what his scoring average is," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He doesn't care how many shots he gets up. As long as we win (and) we're playing the right way, he understands the big picture. We need guys to get better and to gain confidence as the season goes on."
After Miami picked up its fifth win in six tries with a 129-100 drubbing of the Houston Rockets on Sunday, it was tough to even question the method.
But then Tuesday night happened. The Heat traveled to Denver and like so many Pepsi Center visitors before them, they ran out of gas long before their hosts and suffered a humbling 109-89 defeat.
The loss wasn't particularly alarming—the Nuggets are a really good team, especially at home—but the offensive struggles raised more than a few eyebrows among early-season skeptics. If there's a question mark with this team (that doesn't involve the fate of Dion Waiters, at least), it's whether this group has enough scoring and shooting to go around.
On Tuesday, the answer was a resounding no. The Heat shot 36.9 percent as a team and misfired on 20 of their 29 long-range attempts.
Butler saw that vulnerability. He was part of it, too, shooting a woeful 3-of-12 from the field (but at least partially salvaging his night with a 10-of-12 showing at the line).
The Heat hit the hardwood again Thursday night in a game they needed more than you'd think. With the second stop of a back-to-back looming against the Lakers on Friday, the Heat had to take care of business against a better-than-expected Suns team to avoid the threat of a winless road trip.
And Butler was all business from the opening tip.
He sensed this team needed him to take over, so that's exactly what he did. He stuck a four-foot jumper on the game's opening possession. A few minutes later, after back-to-back empty trips for the Heat, he buried a nine-footer and then his first three-point attempt. Following a Nunn jumper, Butler earned a trip to the foul line and cashed in both freebies.
By the end of the first quarter, he'd thrown in 18 points, the highest-scoring opening period of his career. By halftime, he already had 30 points—on only 10 field-goal attempts!—the highest point total of any first half in his career.
At intermission, he passed the baton back to his teammates, where Goran Dragic took it and sprinted to the finish line. The Dragon scored 10 points over the final 2:06 of the third quarter alone, flourishing in his latest revenge game and helping the Heat cruise to a 124-108 victory.
The takeaways from Thursday's win are almost too numerous to mention.
Dragic is a must-start in daily fantasy whenever the Suns are on the schedule. Bam Adebayo is a unique talent who can stuff a stat sheet like few others. Herro isn't backing down from a defensive challenge. This frontcourt can take on a ton of different looks.
All of that stuff is big for this season. Here's what's bigger—Butler just showed everyone that he can and will take seize control of the offense if that's what this team needs.
"I think that was maybe a little key before the game when everybody was just telling me to keep being aggressive, to keep shooting," Butler said. "I think as long as my teammates, my coaches want me to be that way, maybe it's OK to play that was every once in a while. But I like to pass the ball."
The Heat don't need this from him every night. They didn't even need it for all of Thursday night.
But they needed to see it up close. Even if his stat sheets from seasons past said he had it in his arsenal, Miami needed to witness the full power of his scoring prowess.
Defense and depth will be critical to this team's success. Culture has its own place on the short list of crucial keys.
But having a superstar player is what can take this group over the top—or at least position them to secure a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference and a ticket to the postseason's second round, or beyond.
"I like that guy," Spoelstra said of an aggressive Butler. "It was good to get introduced to him tonight. That guy is special. He really is."