Coco Gauff is the world's 6th-ranked women's tennis player. She's also a devout Miami Heat fan.
If all goes well for her, she'll celebrate a Heat championship and her own in the coming weeks. The 19-year-old American is playing in the French Open in search of her first Grand Slam championship. Whenever she's done at Roland Garros, she says that she has an open invitation to the NBA Finals, thanks to the confidence of ever-confident Heat star Jimmy Butler.
Gauff, a South Florida resident, told reporters Tuesday that Butler sent her a message in April offering her tickets to the Heat's regular-season finale against the Orlando Magic on April 9 and another offering playoff tickets. When she told Butler she'd be traveling for tennis during most of the NBA postseason, Butler promised her NBA Finals tickets.
"I said, 'I won't be here,'" Gauff said of her response to Butler, per AP. "'I'll be in Madrid and then Rome and then France.' And then he said, 'OK, when we make the Finals, let me know if your family wants some tickets.' So this was before we were even in the playoffs."
Notice the "we" there from superfan Gauff — and the "when" from Butler. Per Gauff's timeline, Butler made that promise of Finals tickets "when" the Heat advance in April — before Miami was even assured of a spot in the postseason.
"I was like, 'Oh, we're going. We're going to the Finals,'" Gauff continued. "So that's my 'Jimmy Butler story.' He pretty much said we were going to the Finals before we even qualified for the playoffs, and I just really like that mentality."
Heat almost missed playoffs — then advanced to Finals
The Heat finished with the seventh-best record in the East this season at 44-38. That assured them only a spot in the NBA play-in, which pits teams seeded 7-10 in each conference against each other for their respective conference's final two playoff spots. The Heat lost their first play-in game against the Atlanta Hawks. They only made the playoffs thanks to a win-or-go-home victory against the Chicago Bulls to secure the 8th and final playoff spot in the East.
Since then, they've defeated the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks, No. 5 seed New York Knicks and No. 2 seed Boston Celtics to advance to the NBA Finals against the Denver Nuggets. There, they'll be just the second No. 8 seed in NBA history to play in the championship round, joining the 1999 Knicks.
Will Gauff be able to take Butler up on ticket offer?
So will Gauff be able to attend? She's in the early stages of what she hopes is her own deep tournament run. Gauff defeated Spain's Rebeka Masarova (3-6, 6-1, 6-2) in the opening round of French Open play on Tuesday. She'll next face Austria's Julia Grabher in the second round on Thursday — the same day of Game 1 of the NBA Finals in Denver.
If Gauff advances all the way to the French Open final, she'll play for the championship on June 10. Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals are scheduled for June 7 and 9 in Miami. So as much as she'd love to see her Heat, she's certainly hoping she's not available for those games.
But in an ideal world for Gauff, she could play in the French Open final and get home to Florida in plenty of time for a potential Game 6. If the Finals go that deep, the Heat would host the Nuggets on June 15. Butler, who showed up to support Gauff at the Miami Open in March, would certainly relish the opportunity for Gauff to return the favor.