NBA All-Star Jimmy Butler rooting for 'little brother' on Atlanta Falcons

Jimmy Butler can only watch when the NBA playoffs begin this weekend, but the Chicago Bulls two-time All-Star still will have something to cheer about despite missing the postseason.

No, it has nothing to do with rooting against LeBron James and the bitter rival Cavs. It has everything to do with pulling for the guy Butler calls his little brother; the guy who will start offseason workouts with the Atlanta Falcons come Monday.

Jordan Leslie isn’t a household name just yet, but the former BYU and UTEP wide receiver who went undrafted is trying to earn recognition after spending time on the Falcons’ practice squad last season. Maybe Leslie is a longshot to make the roster, but he was one of 27 Falcons who joined quarterback Matt Ryan for workouts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, recently.

"Atlanta will see, man, if they give my guy a shot, he could turn out the way I turned out," Butler said of Leslie. "Look at me. Nobody thought I’d be where I am right now. But the hard work and the dedication, he’s got that. Somebody’s going to see it and somebody’s going to give him a good chance."

The story has been well-documented how Butler was kicked out the house by his mother at age 13 and, without a father, found himself a homeless teen growing up in Houston. Butler bounced around until the summer before his senior year of high school, when he forged a friendship with Leslie during a shooting contest at basketball camp.

"There’s a lot of discrepancy about who won, but I’m going to say I won," Leslie said with a laugh. "He’ll probably say the other thing, but I definitely won. Just put down the facts.

"From then on, we were just kind of best friends. He was a senior, I was a freshman, but you couldn’t tell the difference with the way we pushed each other."

Leslie immediately became well aware of Butler’s living situation.

"So I was like, 'Just come over,' and he came over and stayed the night just about every night," Leslie said. "I kept asking my mom, 'Can he stay another night? Can he stay another night?' And then finally I was like, 'Can he live with us?' I have a lot of respect for my mom, because that’s kind of a big thing, to take in another person. That’s more bills. That’s more food. But she has a great heart."

Leslie’s mother, Michelle Lambert, had three children with Leslie’s father, who died. Then she married Michael Lambert, who had three kids of his own, and the couple had another child. Add Butler to the mix and you had a whole squad.

Butler stayed with the family throughout his time attending junior college in Texas. He went on to star at Marquette and become a first-round draft pick of the Bulls in the 2011 NBA Draft.

Throughout the journey, Butler never neglected the impactful relationship he established with Leslie.

"I love him to death," Butler said. "He’s extremely fortunate to have the people that he has in his life, and I’m fortunate to have him in mine. I think the brotherhood that we have, we’re always there for each other when one of us needs to talk or when one of us needs anything. That’s big. That’s my best friend."

Butler's meteoric rise resulted in a five-year, $92 million contract last summer. Leslie signed a futures contract with the Falcons in January worth a non-guaranteed $450,000 this season and $540,000 next season.

Leslie’s time on the practice squad a year ago included cameos as Allen Robinson (Jacksonville), Ted Ginn Jr. (Carolina), Brandin Cooks (New Orleans) on the scout team to give cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford good looks.

"Honestly, I enjoyed it a lot," Leslie said. "I’ve been to several organizations. I was on Jacksonville for a week and was with Minnesota for the whole preseason, minicamp. Atlanta was one of the best places I’ve been. The coaching staff was just relaxed, and you could tell they really care about the players.

"Getting to learn from the greatest receiver in the NFL right now in Julio Jones is always something I look forward to. One thing about Julio is he’s just God-given. His work ethic is great. Plus he’s really detailed in his route-running. That’s something I can pick his brain about: how to get in and out of cuts better."

Butler, known as a Broncos fan because of his friendship with Demaryius Thomas, has no problem doubling as a Falcons fan -- for now.

"I know Matt Ryan is the quarterback, I know they’ve got a hell of a receiver in Julio Jones, and I know they’ve got a diamond in the rough in Jordan Leslie," Butler said. "My advice to Jordan is just to keep working, trust the process, fall in love with the game, and let God handle everything.

"People overlooked me, too. That’s fine. You’ve got to understand that it happens. But when you get that shot and you get that chance, you make the most of it. Jordan’s always going to compete. I’ve known that since Day 1. And the Atlanta Falcons are going to find that out about him real soon."