It is so well-known that Jimmy Butler started selling $20 cups of coffee (no matter the size) in the NBA bubble in 2020, even while leading up to his first NBA Finals appearance with the Miami Heat against the Los Angeles Lakers. The NBA forward’s DIY BIGFACE coffee company felt like it was part of a specific moment; this gregarious athlete, hustling his colleagues, more seriously than jokingly, in this bizarre isolated bubble so the league could finish out a season wrecked by the pandemic. For the sake of levity, it felt good to see stories like this emerge, like how former teammate Goran Dragic managed to not pay for a single cup. But, for Butler, the endeavor became a more deeply rooted passion for the connective tissue that a cup of coffee can provide.
BIGFACE is more than the bubble, more than the persona behind the coffee. It’s community. Butler began traveling around the world before the pandemic, going to cafés in Europe, taking friends with him, and meeting new folks who would become friends. Not everyone knew who the basketball star was so he could be discovered in a different way. He often sat down and talked to locals, admittedly changing his sugar-fueled coffee beverages for espressos and pour-overs for the occasion.
According to Statista, coffee in the United States is expected to reach over $436 million in revenue. Truly a lucrative, and consumer-specific business (a buyer will tell you exactly why they love where they get their coffee), coffee dominates in grocery stores, cafés, pop culture, and, of course, a million Starbucks’ everywhere. Coffee is so familiar that it takes a lot to shake up how it’s perceived. Enter BIGFACE.
With the launch of BIGFACE as something more than a bubble story, Butler is bringing his love of coffee and community to the digital world. And while the NBA star is hyper-focused on the upcoming season, there is something delightfully synergistic about BIGFACE appearing again in tandem with basketball—a full-circle moment, maybe. I talked to Butler before the launch about how he hopes community forms around BIGFACE, why it mattered to him to understand every facet of the coffee process, along with the people behind it, and the one bubble café he didn't know about.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
I want to know where your head is at right now: Media Day was earlier this week, you're practicing for the upcoming season, and the launch is on Friday, October 1. How are you feeling about your two professional worlds kind of converging at the same time?
Jimmy Butler: I feel good. I feel like my mind's a little bit everywhere. I want to get this basketball thing on the right foot, I want to get the BIGFACE brand off on the right foot as well. But luckily, I got some really great people around me to help me with both of these ventures.
I love the intrigue building on social media, and I just wonder what sort of response you have been hearing.
Butler: Great things. I think everybody is so excited to see what the BIGFACE brand is. Not just coffee, but what the brand has to offer when you're talking about coffee. Yes, there’s merch but the experience and people wanting to be part of this. That's something that I really look forward to down the line—not just being with my people or my guys that I see on a daily basis involved with this thing. But if we open up a few shops and we let all the people in that love the BIGFACE brand.
This might be a bit of a two-part question but: because of your professional and public persona as a big part of any kind of entrepreneurial effort that you have, and that BIGFACE was such a big part of the bubble’s narrative, I wonder how you envision taking BIGFACE from the moment it was in the bubble and scaling it?
Butler: You know, first things first, we just take it one a day at a time. I try my best to keep the main thing—the main thing, which is basketball. I never want that to get misunderstood. But we're going to put everything that we had into making this a success. But along the way, we're going to have fun, and we're going to travel, we're going to meet some incredible people and really, really, really be a part of this thing, helping as many people as we can on the way. Our biggest thing is helping individuals and making sure that everybody knows how much you have in common over a cup of coffee. So we designed this thing being a success, but it's only if it's natural, if it's organic, and it's done the right way and the right way in our eyes is the way that we're doing it.
I know that you traveled a lot trying different coffees in different countries around the world, but what's your coffee experience like in Miami or even your exposure to different U.S. markets? Do you have a place you love to go to in Miami or anything that you're inspired by?
Butler: I go everywhere, I'm always trying something new, even here around Miami because I want to show love and I want to show support for everybody. But that's what BIGACE is about; it’s not just about us. We're going to enjoy it, but we're going to support everybody else, all the baristas around the world. I can't wait to meet them so we get to chat, learn about one another and make some coffee while doing it. Like that's what this whole thing is about is bringing notoriety and shedding light on others.
I wonder how you figure the digital part of BIG FACE is going to open up opportunities for your customers. You're really putting people first and you want your buyers to be engaged with that part of the story. So how do you see digital-first as a great opportunity versus starting an in-person retail location?
Butler: Right now basketball is the main thing, so I don't want people to get that confused. Like I said, I want to be able to be all in. If I open up a coffee shop, I really want to make coffee. I really want to be in there making coffee and getting to know people in that community in however many cities or states that BIGFACE may or may not open up. I really do love and enjoy getting to know people and making coffee while I'm doing it. So, I mean, that's the goal. I think the digital part first is just to teach you about our coffee and what our experience is going to be like. I think the one thing that we are a little bit different on is not just coffee. We need to make sure that the experience you have is something that's memorable.
Yeah, that's interesting because people are really specific about their coffee. I don't know if you see that, like this habitual preference of why a person likes a certain roast. Are you looking forward to people getting that attachment to the BIGFACE roast?
Butler: I want to hear that. I want to hear what the people like and do not like. And with that being said, we can't please everybody, but we're also not going to be so locked in on everybody at the same time. That’s just not fair. We're going to really try to control what we can control. I think we're doing things the right way. Again, organic. We're telling the story of how we got this way and how we came up with this design or how we came up with this experience. And I think that goes more towards the brand than just coffee. Coffee is really important. We love it. But what's the story behind the coffee? What's the story behind every bean and where it comes from? And that farmer, that's what we look forward to, to be in every showcase.
In the off-season, when you were doing a lot of this work like talking to farmers, was there anything that you found super surprising you didn't know about the process before that changed the way you thought about coffee?
Butler: Everything! Seriously because you don't know that this is their livelihood. Their lives are on the line. This is what they love to do. This is what puts food on the table for them. And, you know, I look at it like basketball for me, like I put a lot of time into my craft. They're doing the same thing with coffee, like, OK, we got to make sure we get it just right and do everything the right way. And I think it is absolutely incredible. And I'm telling you, that's the part that brings me the most joy. Just seeing the love that they have for what they are doing, you don't find that often. You just don't. And the way that they go about it is just really special to them.
What is your favorite roast? When I was doing research, I don't think I read that anywhere.
Butler: I love light roast. I love fruit—any type of fruit that I can get in there, I'm going for. But I drink literally all types of coffee, way too much coffee today. But like I said, it's not so much about the coffee for me. It's about who am I sitting down to enjoy this coffee with? What am I learning about this? How can I help them? That's what this thing is all about. And I can't say it enough because that's what really brings us joy. That's where the whole thing started.
I don't want to tie this to the pandemic, but you have such an emphasis on the connection between people and enjoying their coffee in person. Is that a factor because we’ve been without that for so long?
Butler: I don't think so. I'm not going to base it upon the pandemic because this idea for me was before the pandemic when I was in London. I found out I had so much in common with the lady that was north of 60 years old in a coffee shop that I still talk to this day, by the way. And it's kind of like, wow, I would have never met you or realized that, hey, we both enjoy soccer. Yeah, we like different clubs, obviously, but we're sitting here. Let me talk some shit.
I only have one more question for you: when you were in the bubble and you were starting the brand, I read that you would acquire your copycats, like Little Face Coffee, but did you also know that the Toronto Raptors had Cafe 416?
Butler: Oh, no, I didn't know that. Well, I'm pretty sure I would have shut them down had I known about it anyways. That's legit. I really didn't know that. That's the first of me hearing that.
Yes, [general manager] Bobby Webster had a little cafe out of his hotel room.
Butler: Good for him, good for him.