"Just a little extra work while y'all in your third dream," Butler said, via the South Florida Sun Sentinel's Ira Winderman. "I like to get it in."
"I go to sleep at like 6:30, 7," Butler said, again via the Sun Sentinel, and he gets the nine hours of sleep that he needs.
The evening games that dominate the NBA schedule get in the way of Butler keeping this up year-round, but he said he has to "bite the bullet sometimes, which I hate to do."
If Butler were the only Heat player in the gym in the middle of the night, then this would just be another quirky story illustrating Butler's renowned work habits. Last week, though, rookie guard Tyler Herro joined him for a series of 4 a.m. workouts, per the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson. And on Thursday, center Meyers Leonard got to work at about 3:30 and then tweeted about Butler's leadership.
"The thought of being outworked was not one I enjoyed," Leonard wrote. "Jimmy is setting a new standard and I love it."
Leonard also tweeted that center Bam Adebayo was there. The overall message here is simple: "Heat culture" is alive and well without Dwyane Wade. Players are bonding by pushing themselves to do something uncomfortable, and Butler is establishing himself as a leader. If Miami has a hot start or exceeds expectations, the players might point to this as a tone-setter, creating the conditions for the team to be more than the sum of its parts.
But isn't this silly? Is this really anything more than a transparent image-building campaign? Is there anything inherently good about throwing your body clock out of whack when you could do the same amount of work in normal waking hours?
From the Heat's perspective, there could be real value here. If Leonard genuinely feels like it is bringing the team closer together, if Herro is learning what a star player does to prepare himself for a grueling season, no amount of outside cynicism can invalidate their experiences. Romanticizing this type of thing, however, is dangerous. Professional athletes shouldn't feel like they have to go to extreme measures to prove to fans that they are appropriately dedicated.
Around the NBA, you might hear that a player who is widely applauded for early-morning trips to the gym is really just suffering from insomnia, or that a player is more concerned with people thinking he works hard than making tangible improvement. I am not arguing that the Heat are being entirely performative, but rather that valorizing obsession and, in particular, sleep deprivation, isn't much different than valorizing the act of "gutting through" an injury. This kind of praise seems innocent, but it implies that those who don't choose to work while most people sleep and those who don't choose put their bodies at risk lack competitive fire. For all the talk (inside and outside the basketball world) about the hazards of overwork and the importance of sleep -- here's a 2017 story about Miami trying to get its players more rest -- there still exists a harmful expectation that players should "sacrifice" any semblance of balance in their lives in order to be great.