SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Chicago Bulls will be in Charlotte on Sunday, in advance of a Monday meeting against the Hornets. It should be a fun place for many to watch the Super Bowl given the excitement surrounding the city about the Carolina Panthers.
But in a city full of black-and-blue Panthers jerseys, there will be at least one large orange No. 88 Denver Broncos jersey.
Butler will be repping Thomas and the Broncos because he and the star wide receiver have developed a close friendship. Butler spent his off day in Sacramento on Tuesday catching a ride over to San Francisco so that he could hang with Thomas and some of his Denver teammates during Super Bowl week.
"It means a lot to me, man," Butler told ESPN.com of seeing Thomas in the Super Bowl. "That's like a brother to me. All the hard work that I've seen him doing every time I've talked to him over the summer, he's always working. I think he's going to be huge in this game and I know they're going to come out on top."
Given the similarities in their background, the reality is that Butler and Thomas already have come out on top. Their journeys to the peak of their respective professions have been well-documented. Butler's story -- he was kicked out of the house by his mom when he was 13 -- has been referred to as basketball's version of "The Blind Side."
Thomas dealt with losing his mom to prison for 15 years on a drug trafficking conviction. It was just last month that Thomas' mother, Katina Smith, was able to watch her son play in the NFL for the first time after President Obama commuted her sentence over the summer.
"It's not easy not having a mom," Thomas said. "I knew the same things [Butler] was going through and have gone through. That was a bond and we kind of stayed in touch from there."
Butler has never been one to focus on the circumstances that led him to this point. He bonded with Thomas soon after meeting him at the ESPYS a few years ago.
"His career has taken off in a great direction as has mine [since they met]," said Butler, who was just selected to his second straight All-Star Game. "We just support each other, we're each others' biggest fans because that's what friends [do]. We're like brothers, that's what we do."
Thomas was glad Butler reached out.
"For him to reach out was big, that was unexpected, maybe, but I'm glad he did," Thomas said. "There was a time I didn't like talking about it because it wasn't going to end anytime soon, I didn't know when my mom was getting out. But now people know my story, she's had the chance to get out and get her life going. Kind of that happy ending. But I'm glad he reached out."
Butler, 26, knows that he and Thomas, 28, have overcome some huge hurdles to get to this point in their careers, but he says the topic of how they reached it doesn't come up nearly as much as talk of the future.
"We really don't talk about [the past] much," Butler said. "The past is the past. It made you, but it never is going to define who you are, moving forward. We try to stick in the right now. We talk about going on vacations, making sure he comes up to Chicago to catch a game, which I will see him there. Me coming to Atlanta and kickin' it over the summer. Going on vacation together, that's what we talk about. So hopefully he gets this Super Bowl and you'll see him courtside at the Bulls game."
Butler's Instagram feed shows pictures from earlier this year of him on the sidelines of a Broncos game in Denver cheering on his friend. He routinely wears Thomas' jersey in the Bulls' locker room before and after games.
Butler's relationship with Thomas has produced other friendships on the Broncos' roster as well. Butler posted a photo of himself on Instagram with Thomas and Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware on the streets of San Francisco on Tuesday. He says he keeps in contact with several Broncos players on a regular basis and enjoyed picking "their brain" at dinner on Tuesday night.
"I've talked to all of those guys," Butler said. "Just learning a little bit about them, where they're from, about their kids and stuff like that. I think that's important because you got to look at them as a human before you do as an athlete. Everybody got things that are going on on and off the court. So when I'm texting them or calling them I'm asking them about their family. I'm asking them what you were doing on your day off. I know what you're doing on the football field, I watch it. So just being personable about everything."
"You can talk all the crap you want to -- my team's in the Super Bowl," Butler said. "Kirk's Kansas City Chiefs, they're not there. Mike's Green Bay Packers, they're not there. Aaron's Seattle [Seahawks], they're not there. My team's there so you can talk all you want. My team's there and we're going to get this W."
By coincidence, Butler and the Bulls play Friday in Denver against the Nuggets, Saturday in Minnesota against the Timberwolves and Monday in Charlotte against the Hornets as they complete a cross-country, seven-game road trip. Butler still isn't sure exactly where he will be watching the game -- a team party hosted by former Bulls center Nazr Mohammed's home in Charlotte is a possibility -- but he knows when the game finally comes on, he will be cheering hard for Thomas -- and beaming at what his "brother" has already accomplished.
"That's the biggest stage," Butler said. "This is what you dream of. This is what you work toward. I know he's going to do whatever it takes for his team to win. I know how hard he works. I know what he wants to have done over his career. So this is just the first step of one of many championships for him, I hope."
ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold contributed to this report.