PARIS—To hear tennis star Coco Gauff tell it, basketball star Jimmy Butler assured her his Miami Heat would make it to the NBA Finals before they were guaranteed of so much as participating in the playoffs.
Before the French Open began, 2022 runner-up Gauff—who lives in South Florida and is an avid Heat fan, one who uses the pronoun “we” when talking about the team—mentioned that she had “a funny story about Jimmy Butler, but I’m going to save it” until Miami was done playing in the Eastern Conference finals.
“I don’t want to jinx it,” she said. “I will save it for another day.”
Following a comeback victory in her first-round match at Roland Garros on Tuesday, which was about 12 hours after the Heat beat the Boston Celtics 103-84 in Game 7 of the East finals, Gauff told the tale involving the guy known as “Jimmy Buckets.”
Gauff, a 19-year-old who is ranked No. 6 in women’s tennis, said Butler offered her tickets to see the Heat’s last regular-season game in early April. Later, he sent her a direct message to ask whether she wanted seats for the postseason, too.
“I said, ‘I won’t be here. I’ll be in Madrid and then Rome and then France,’” she recounted, mentioning the sites of tournaments. “And then he said, ‘OK, when we make the Finals, let me know if your family wants some tickets.’ So this was before we were even in the playoffs.”
Looking back on the exchange, Gauff was fascinated by the timing. That second ticket offer came before the Heat were assured of extending their season; their record was only good enough to get them into the play-in round for a full-fledged playoff berth.
Miami wound up losing its opener in that round to the Atlanta Hawks, but then did manage to beat the Chicago Bulls three days later to get into the playoffs as the East’s No. 8 seed.
“Everybody is like, ‘We have a 3% chance of making the Finals, but when he sent me that, I knew we were making the Finals, because he didn’t say ’IF we make the Finals’ — he said ‘WHEN we make the Finals.’”
Gauff said she took a screenshot of Butler’s note and sent it to her family back then.
“I was like, ‘Oh, we’re going. We’re going to the Finals,’” Gauff said with a smile. “So that’s my ‘Jimmy Butler story.’ He pretty much said we were going to the Finals before we even qualified for the playoffs, and I just really like that mentality.”
Butler helped Miami eliminate the higher-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks and then the Celtics. The Heat and the Western Conference champion Denver Nuggets begin the NBA Finals on Thursday.
As for Gauff, her French Open continues Thursday with a second-round match against Austrian player Julia Grabher.
On Tuesday, Gauff advanced by defeating Rebeka Masarova of Spain, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. Gauff failed to convert any of the eight break-point chances she earned in the first set, but then turned things around, going 5-for-8 the rest of the way.
Entering this week, Gauff said, she thought about what her response should be when asked whether last year’s run to the final in Paris—she lost to Iga Swiatek—should make her feel more pressure.
“At first, I was like, ‘I have to match last year’s result, blah, blah, blah, Or do better.’ (But) that was last year. I’m like, ‘It’s over. What can I do about it?’” she said, before relating that same sort of mindset to Tuesday’s match.
“With the first set, it’s over,” Gauff said. “Like, ‘What can I do about it?’ You have the choice to dwell on it or reset, and I chose to reset.”
Image credits: AP