When former Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler gave out his phone number in a press conference on Thursday, it set the internet on fire, but for Evanston resident Michael Byrne, what was a joke for others quickly turned into a surreal experience.
Byrne, whose number is one digit off from the one that Butler shared with fans, was charging his phone at his home in Evanston when he heard it repeatedly going off.
“At first I heard my phone going off a bunch. When I checked it, I already had 37 missed calls,” he says. “I got calls from Arkansas, Florida, New York City, and all over the country. I got voice mails and text messages all saying how much they supported me.”
In all, Byrne says he has received at least 100 voicemails and over 150 text messages since Butler shared his phone number with fans.
“That’s the strange part. They’re calling the wrong number,” he says. “None of the calls or messages have been mean or harassing, but I can’t even use my phone.”
He says getting calls intended for Butler is an odd experience, but what makes it even stranger is that he really didn’t know who the former Bulls star was before his phone started ringing off the hook.
“I don’t follow sports, so I didn’t know who Jimmy Butler was,” Byrne says. “I had to Google his name, and then I saw that he had shared his number.”
Byrne, who is currently between jobs, ended up turning off the ringer, but he can’t let voice mails go unchecked as he looks for new employment after undergoing a medical procedure earlier this year.
“I can’t ignore the phone because I have to leave the phone open if a job calls,” he said. “I used to work in DVD and CD replication for student films and office films, so I’m still having to check my phone to see if I get any leads for that.”
Byrne says that he contacted the Timberwolves about the situation, but was told by an operator in the team’s offices that there unfortunately wasn’t much that the team could do to help stem the flow of phone calls.
If nothing else, the experience has helped give the Evanston resident a glimpse of what it’s like to be a celebrity in the digital age.
“I kind of see what these celebrities go through being harassed by fans,” he said. “I’ve had people offering to sell me houses in Minneapolis, or bar owners wanting me to come in for a drink. It’s like a plot to a bad movie.”
Byrne did try to call the number that Butler provided to fans, but was unable to get through.
“I would just tell him that his fans need to dial more carefully,” he said with a laugh.