Jimmy Butler remembered the conversations and championship aspirations he shared with his friend and former Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
The Miami Heat guard remembered watching Thomas help Denver stand on top of the world when it won Super Bowl 50 and wondering if he could do the same in the NBA.
“We talked about this all the time,” Butler said during Finals media day on Wednesday. “Maybe not Denver versus my team, but just being able to watch me win a championship like he did.”
With the Heat set to face the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, it’s hard for Butler not to think about Thomas, who died at 33 years old in 2021, and how he wished the four-time Pro Bowler could be sitting courtside to watch him potentially make history.
“I miss him so much,” he said.
Butler and Thomas’ friendship was forged through their upbringings, as they endured a difficult road to become among the best in their respective sports. Butler’s father abandoned his family when he was an infant, and his mother kicked him out of the house when he was 13. He was not a highly coveted high school recruit, so he attended community college before transferring to Marquette.
Thomas saw his mother sentenced to 20 years in prison and his grandmother to life when he was 11. Despite this, he became a first-round pick out of Georgia Tech and one of the top wideouts in Broncos history, catching 665 passes for 9,055 yards and 60 touchdowns during his nine-year stint in Denver.
“He motivated me because his story is really incredible,” Butler said. “Through everything that he’s been through, to make it and do what he did for the Broncos.”
Butler reached out to Thomas after hearing his story in 2014, sparking a strong bond. He attended Broncos games while the two inspired each other to get better.
“I used to spend so much time here with him, watching him be great,” Butler said. “I have a lot of love for this city.”
In April, Thomas was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame along with former Chargers, Tampa Bay and Northern Colorado wide receiver and Colorado Springs native Vincent Jackson, who also died in 2021; former United States Olympic Committee vice president Evie Dennis; the late U.S. Olympic skier Jimmie Heuga and former Nuggets head coach George Karl.
Two years after Thomas’ death, Butler’s heart is still heavy for his friend.
“That’s my guy, my brother forever,” he said.