Brownsburg, Ind. • Nine miles from this hardwood floor, in downtown Indianapolis, stand two venues that hosted iconic moments in the life of Gordon Hayward. In one of them, he won. In the other, he almost won. Here, in front of 300 witnesses, with his long arms engulfing his twin sister, he’s losing it.
While celebrating her wedding, Hayward — who walked stoically off the court after barely missing a would-be historic shot, earned scholar-athlete honors in computer engineering, persevered through his NBA rookie season and plays video games intensely — is overwhelmed.
His recent slump aside, the second-year pro who’s playing with teammate Derrick Favors in Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge during the NBA All-Star Weekend in Orlando represents the Jazz’s future. He’s a face of the franchise, appearing on the “We Are Utah” billboards. He’s Brownsburg’s boy, Butler’s lasting image, Gordon and Jody’s son, Kolbi’s boyfriend and Boris’ video-game rival.
At this moment, Gordon Daniel Hayward is just Heather’s brother.
They arrived as answers to a mother’s prayers. Jody Hayward grew up in Brownsburg with a twin sister and desperately hoped for twins of her own, a boy and a girl. The delivery in March 1990 launched a perpetual duel for test scores, athletic achievements and preferred car seating.
On this Saturday in June 2011, Hayward is not about to give away his sister without some resistance.
He cried in the car on their first day of fourth grade, when school district policy still mandated separate classes for siblings. He evoked “ooohs” from mothers in the audience when his fifth-grade essay about his sister was read aloud. He always tried to match their class schedules in high school and chose Butler in part because she could play tennis for the Bulldogs. That choice made sense to him, once he learned the school actually fielded a Division I basketball team.
And now, she’s about to team up with Brett Hartnagel, his former doubles partner.
A few blocks from the Butler campus, at Common Ground Christian Church, Hayward holds his mother’s arm as they walk down the aisle. Knowing a parting hug would be too emotional, they slap hands and salute, like pregame introductions, drawing laughter from the audience.
During the reception, held nearby in the elegant commons of Park Tudor School, Heather and her father dance to Heartland’s “I Loved Her First.” They smile and sway, then her brother steps in. They begin awkwardly, these two who always have been bonded, and now are holding on. When the music stops, Hayward won’t let go. He’s sobbing.
His tears become contagious, among folks accustomed to watching him perform coolly in big moments. Hayward walks outside, trying to compose himself.
Eight months later, the scene remains indelible. A narrated tour of Hayward’s life covers four rooms in the family’s home.
In the kitchen, Jody Hayward, who works as an IT project coordinator, prepares homemade tomato soup and bread. In the dining area, Hayward’s parents, sister and brother-in-law share childhood stories. In the game room, basketball displays surround the ping-pong table and trigger more tales.
Back upstairs, in the family room, his mother serves cherry crisp dessert as his sister shows wedding photos and relives that dance. “It was as if Gordon and I were best friends again and he just didn’t want me to go, but at the same time it was like his blessing to let me go,” Heather said.
Pausing after a Jazz practice one morning, Hayward reflected, “I think it was just a culmination of everything, realizing that we’re kind of growing up and she’s doing her own thing and she’s going to have her own life now. It’s just been so fast. Four years ago, we were in high school, still.”
Hayward will spend the All-Star break dwelling on Wednesday’s defeat at Minnesota, where he missed a late free throw and let Luke Ridnour drive past him for the winning basket. He’s familiar with dramatic endings.
Four years ago, all of this was ahead of Hawyard: his thrilling finish in the Indiana Class 4A state tournament, his near-miss in the NCAA final, his up-and-down rookie year and his growth this season, while starting every game.
Brownsburg is home to some 21,000 residents, 7,000 more than when Hayward was 10. Every street sign is purple, marked with a Bulldog, the high school’s mascot. Only 18 miles from downtown Indianapolis, Brownsburg stands distinct.
Here in this town where the Connector Road, running from I-74 to Main Street, is framed by cornfields, Hayward’s parents met on a tennis court as teenagers. The sports-minded community that sent two teams to the Little League World Series currently claims two Major League Baseball pitchers, a Major League Soccer rookie and an NBA player. For years, Brownsburg athletic director Greg Hill has counseled families to savor the high-school experience, citing the remote chances of a pro career. “It’s kind of ruined my speech,” Hill said.
Hayward beat those odds. He also validated his commitment to real-time, strategic video gaming, which his father tried to limit. Hayward argued that some StarCraft II devotees make money. His father, a software engineer, responded, “It’s not going to be you, son.” So, of course, Hayward recalled those words last summer when he signed an endorsement deal for video gaming.
In Brownsburg, Hayward developed his athletic talent without any sense of entitlement. “More than anything, when you’re from a small town, you grow up with good balance in life,” said NBA veteran Kyle Korver, of Pella, Iowa. “You play all the sports, and everybody knows you, and you know everybody. You’re just Gordon. You’re Kyle.”
Hayward competed in soccer and baseball and also tried football, often changing uniforms in the family van between venues. But the boy was raised on Brandywine Court — the cul-de-sac where the family’s brick home was built the year he was born — and his career would play out on courts. Famously, he almost went full-time in tennis after his freshman year of high school, when he stood 5-foot-11 and had yet to play for the varsity.
His mother somehow persuaded the kid who never likes to lose a debate to give basketball another year. Having developed a guard’s skills, he kept that ability as he grew to 6-4 as a sophomore, 6-7 as a junior and 6-8 as a senior.
The transformation was “like a kid discovered superpowers,” coach Joshua Kendrick said.
Partly because he liked to pass, Hayward never became a huge scorer in high school. The No. 9 pick in the 2010 NBA draft is not among the nine players in Brownsburg history with 1,000-plus career points (he finished with 927 in 77 games), although he ranks high in assists, rebounds and steals.
In the final games of Hayward’s high-school and college careers, Kendrick and Butler’s Brad Stevens basically said, “Get the ball to Gordon.” The first time his teammates heard those instructions from a coach, Hayward was 4, shooting at 6-foot rims at Garfield Park in Indianapolis.
As a Brownsburg senior, playing in the NBA arena now called Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hayward was covered on the designed inbounds play with 2.1 seconds remaining. But he grabbed a loose ball in the lane and scored to give the Bulldogs their first state championship, 40-39 over Marion.
Stevens once told the Brownsburg staff that Hayward could become Butler’s first NBA product in nearly 60 years. Stevens’ forecast came true far sooner than he could have known.
After his freshman year, Hayward helped the U.S. team win the U-19 world championship in New Zealand. He already was a top NBA prospect, and Butler was about to become a national phenomenon.
Supported by veteran teammates and the other five members of his tightly bonded recruiting class, Hayward led the Bulldogs through the NCAA Tournament as a No. 5 seed, continually pulling out close games. Butler came to EnergySolutions Arena for the West Regional, beating Syracuse in the Sweet 16 and Kansas State in the Elite Eight. On the floor where Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor three months later would stand in defense of drafting him, Hayward’s NBA future instantly became clear to Stevens.
Hayward dribbled the ball between his legs, stepped back and hit a 3-pointer over Kansas State’s Curtis Kelly. “We’d better go to the Final Four,” Stevens told his assistants, “because he’s gone.”
Two years and six blocks removed from the state title game, Hayward had two chances to beat Duke in the NCAA championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. His baseline fadeaway shot looked good but sailed long. That haunts him more than the shot everyone else remembers, the buzzer-beating halfcourt attempt that banked off the rim, denying the upstart Bulldogs the biggest breakthrough in modern collegiate sports.
“It’s still something that me and him talk about every once in a while — what if that would have gone in, how things would be different,” said Butler’s Garrett Butcher, Hayward’s roommate for two years.
Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler’s historical landmark, showcases side-by-side National Finalist banners — one earned with Hayward, the other without him. Of those six freshmen in Hayward’s class, four remain at Butler. Guard Shelvin Mack, now with the Washington Wizards, left school after last April’s title-game defeat. The Bulldogs (18-12) have won five straight games.
Heather will graduate from Butler with a degree in chemistry in May, four years after triumphantly edging her brother in class ranking (No. 6 among 472 students). She’ll forever declare herself the “oldest and smartest” twin.
In early February, when the Jazz visited Indianapolis, several dozen hometown fans received access to a brief postgame meeting with Hayward. With his hair wet, dressed in basketball shoes and a sport jacket, he took a microphone and thanked them, then answered five questions about basketball and video games before boarding the team bus.
The next day, the NBA named him a Rising Star. Here in Indiana, folks already knew that.
Gordon Hayward’s NBA career statistics:
Season Pts. Rbs. Ast. FG.
2010-11 5.4 2.0 1.1 .485
2011-12 9.4 2.8 3.2 .421
Hayward’s offensive production has dropped off in the past six games after a six-game spurt:
Segment FG Pts.
Last six .333 5.3
Previous six .581 14.8
Current major league athletes from Brownsburg High School:
Player Sport Team
Chris Estridge Soccer Vancouver Whitecaps
Gordon Hayward Basketball Utah Jazz
Lance Lynn Baseball St. Louis Cardinals
Drew Storen Baseball Washington Nationals
The fourth Gordon Hayward
Jazz forward Gordon Daniel Hayward descended from three other Gordon Haywards, each with a distinctive middle name: Gordon Bachelor (great-grandfather), Gordon Louis (grandfather) and Gordon Scott (father).