Jimmy Butler shows a little love of his own after 40-point half

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Branden Zollar, left, and the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler at Joe’s Stone Crab on March 4.

Branden Zollar was visiting her boyfriend’s family in Toronto for the New Year, which was wonderful timing considering the Bulls, her favorite NBA team, were playing the Raptors on Jan. 3.

The second-year Northwestern Law School student and her boyfriend managed to get courtside seats, which meant they were able to get an up-close view of her favorite player, Jimmy Butler, scoring all of two points in the first half. Happy New Year to you, too.

Unfazed, Zollar offered words of encouragement, if not undying commitment, to Butler as he warmed up before the third quarter.

“My boyfriend told me to say something to Jimmy to give him a little oomph,’’ she said. “So I timidly told him that I loved him. As he was shooting from the three-point line, he turned around and said, ‘I love you, too.’ ’’

Then Butler scored 40 points in the second half, the most in a half in Bulls’ history.

You figure out the cause and effect.

On March 4, Zollar, somehow still with her boyfriend after the momentous developments of Jan. 3, was celebrating her 25th birthday with 10 friends at Joe’s Stone Crab in Chicago. And who was two tables away? Correct. Mr. 40 Points In A Half.

“Everybody said, ‘Branden, you have to go say something to him. You have to tell him about your time in Toronto,’ ’’ said Zollar, who grew up on the South Side. “I went over. My legs and my hands were shaking. I was in four-inch heels, and I thought I was going to fall. He was on his phone. He didn’t look up for the first 15 seconds.

“I said, ‘Hi, I’m really sorry to interrupt your dinner. I know that you probably don’t care, but I’m one of your biggest fans. I was your only fan in Toronto. I told you I loved you at halftime, and you told me you loved me back. And then you made history.’

“He looked up and he smiled and he giggled, and then he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember.’ I’m sure he didn’t remember, but he was being nice.’’

Butler agreed to have his photo taken with Zollar after dinner. She was sure that Butler’s dining partner and trainer, Chris Johnson, would forget to bring her over for the photo. He did not forget. She got the photo. And more.

“I went back and sat down at the dinner table,’’ Zollar said. “At that point, we had ordered probably five bottles of champagne, four bottles of wine. We had all ordered steaks and every side on the menu.’’

Their waiter came to the table and told her boyfriend that Butler had taken care of their bill, including the tip.

“We asked out of curiosity how much it was, and I think it ended up being about $4,000,’’ she said. “That’s not much to Jimmy Butler, but it was really nice for him to do. It absolutely made all of our nights. It made my birthday.

“He’s so sweet. He’s so kind. If everybody in the world could know what a good guy he is and I can help do that, then absolutely.’’

The lesson? Don’t bottle up those feelings.

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