The NBA Finals began on June 1, with the Miami Heat visiting the Denver Nuggets for the first game of the series. But the Heat’s trip to the Mile High City might be more emotional for Miami All-Star forward Jimmy Butler compared to his teammates.
Prior to Game 1, Butler took part in a May 31 press conference and spoke about his connection to Denver – more specifically, former Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. The 2023 Eastern Conference Finals MVP was a good friend of the late Broncos star, who unexpectedly passed away on Dec. 9, 2021 due to complications from seizures.
“That’s my guy, my brother forever – I miss him so much,” Butler said in a Twitter video posted by KOA Colorado’s Brandon Krisztal. “I just spent so much time here (in Denver) with him watching him be great.”
The two became friends in 2014 after Butler learned that Thomas faced childhood hardships, but achieved eventual success in adulthood through football. Butler and Thomas’ unbreakable bond was also strong enough to make Butler a Broncos fan.
Unfortunately, Thomas won’t be able to watch Butler play live in the NBA Finals — something Butler said he still thinks about.
“I miss that guy,” Butler said during his press conference. “I wish he was here to sit courtside and watch me do my thing because we talked about this (being in the NBA Finals) all the time. Maybe not [necessarily] Denver versus my team, but just being able to watch me win a championship like he did.”
All in all, Butler said he’s found an appreciation for the city of Denver – but mostly because of Thomas.
“He motivated me because his story is really, really incredible through everything that he’s been through to make it and do what he did for the Broncos,” Butler said in his presser. “I actually have a lot of love for this city.”
The Broncos’ official Twitter account even took notice of Butler’s comments before Game 1, posting a photo of Butler and Thomas together at a Broncos home game.
Sean Payton, Peyton Manning Rooting for Nuggets
Since being traded from the New Orleans Saints in late January, Broncos head coach Sean Payton is still somewhat new to the Denver area. But he’s quickly assimilated into Denver sports culture, as he’s already been to some Nuggets games.
That includes Game 1 of the Finals, in which Payton was sitting courtside alongside friends from his alma mater, Eastern Illinois University.
“I’m going to take them (my friends) and convert them to Nuggets fans, so it’ll be exciting,” Payton told local media during a June 1 press conference. “I’m excited for the city and to watch these guys.”
During Game 1, 104.3 The Fan’s Zach Bye tweeted that Payton greeted former Broncos Super Bowl-winning quarterback Peyton Manning, who was also in attendance. Payton also introduced Manning to his friends sitting courtside.
Manning even narrated the Nuggets’ pre-Game 1 hype video, which was posted by the Nuggets’ official Twitter account on June 1.
Other Broncos Show Support During Nuggets’ Playoff Run
In addition to Payton and Manning, current Broncos players are backing the Nuggets during their playoff run.
Safety Justin Simmons and quarterback Russell Wilson attended Game 1, but it wasn’t the first game they’ve been to in the past couple of months.
“You guys like my hat?” Simmons asked the media as he walked up to the presser podium.
Despite growing up in Stuart, Florida, Simmons isn’t a Heat fan. In fact, he said he mostly supported the Lakers during his childhood because of Kobe Bryant.
“A good amount of my family is Heat fans but I grew up with Kobe fan, so I naturally just cheered for the Lakers most of my life,” Simmons said. “But I think it’d be pretty cool to see the Nuggets win the Finals, so that’s who I’m going for.”
But since spending the entirety of his seven-year NFL career in Denver, Simmons has become accustomed to supporting the city’s sports culture.
Now, with a 1-0 lead over the Heat, it seems like the Nuggets will continue to receive plenty of support from the Broncos — especially as they seek their first-ever NBA championship.