So there we were, my parents and I, driving around central Indiana 13 years ago with a realtor who kept bragging about his grandson (spoiler alert: I'm preparing to tell you about the first time I ever heard the name "Gordon Hayward," and it was a little different for several reasons).
The realtor went on and on.
He's this. He's that.
In fact, he's ALL of that.
Along the way to becoming a Rhodes Scholar someday, he'll evolve into one of the most significant basketball players in the country. You know, if he doesn't forfeit his hoops career to join his twin sister as perennial champions of Wimbledon and other prominent tennis events.
The realtor's grandson was 14. Barely. My parents and I listened, partly because we were a captive audience during their search for a new home after 32 years in Milwaukee, but mostly because the more the realtor named Gordon Hayward (no, not THAT one) spoke about what clearly was his favorite subject, the more he sounded as if he knew what he was talking about.
"Not to brag, but my grandson has always been a little superior on the teams he's been on, and that includes when he played baseball for a few years and the time he spent as the quarterback for his football team," the realtor said as we nodded politely. Through it all, he kept driving and talking about his grandson who was a freshman at the high school located around the corner from the place my parents eventually bought in Brownsburg, Ind.
During the two days the man we called "Gordie" took us to properties around the western edges of Indianapolis, we learned he was such a diehard Colts fan that he attended home and away games. He spoke of growing up on the east side of town before he moved to Brownsburg to raise his family that included four children. He mentioned his father was also named Gordon Hayward, but he said they didn't go by senior and junior. So when Gordie had the first of his three sons, he gave the world another Gordon Hayward without the trio going by I, II and III. Then Gordie's son continued the family tradition by naming his first-born male (you've guessed it) Gordon Hayward, and that was Gordie's quasi adolescent grandson during my parents' house searching days.
Let's jump ahead of the story. The youngest of the Gordon Haywards is all grown up now, and not just because he's 6-foot-8, nine inches taller than he was back then as a high school freshman. He signed a four-year deal worth $128 million last week as a free agent with the Boston Celtics, which means he is reunited with Brad Stevens, his coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. Prior to the Celtics move, he spent seven years on the rise in the NBA with the Utah Jazz. Before that, he kept doing wonderful things on and off the court at Butler to join Stevens in turning those Bulldogs into the most consistently potent mid-major in college basketball history. That was after his standout career in both hoops and tennis for the Bulldogs of Brownsburg High School. He even contemplated a life of volleys and serves in tennis over that of picks and rolls, but despite going 26-3 in singles his senior year, he stuck with basketball.
"I never missed a game. Never. No sir. I would never miss," the grandfather told me over the phone Tuesday from Speedway, Ind., where this Gordon Hayward is now 77 and lives in semi-retirement from the real estate business, but not from praising his grandson. "Oh, yeah. I love talking about him, because he's great. He's gotten married, and he's got two little girls. You've got to work hard to get to where he is now, NBA-wise, and let me say this about my grandson. He's a quiet guy, and he's not an outgoing person, and that's not new, because he's always been that way through his life. You won't see him raising hell with the referees or getting into it with the other team. He doesn't brag or anything, but one thing was always apparent. He likes to win. He has to win."
To translate, the youngest of the Gordon Haywards went to the appropriate high school for those into success. With its enrollment of 2,400 students, along with its ongoing distinction as the top academic public high school in Indiana, Brownsburg is the alma mater of catcher Tucker Barnhart and pitcher Drew Storen, both starters for the Cincinnati Reds. San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Chris Jones also went there, and so did St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn, United Soccer League player Chris Estridge and Olympic cyclist Nichole Dygert. Brownsburg reached the Little League World Series in 1999 and 2001, and both of those rosters featured future Brownsburg High baseball players, including Lynn, who became one of just 12 players ever to participate in a Little League World Series (1999) and one in the Major Leagues (2011).
As for state championships, 110-year-old Brownsburg High captured titles in football in 1907, 1985 and 1986, in baseball in 2005, in bowling in 2009 and in wrestling in 2017. No offense to those sports, but Indiana gave us the movie "Hoosiers," the many sides of Bobby Knight and the early years of John Wooden, Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird. Which means basketball is king of this state. So my parents didn't call me much in Atlanta to discuss the glorious ways of Brownsburg High until 2008, exactly four years after we first heard about Gordie's grandson. They mentioned that season how the youngest of the Gordon Haywards was excelling on the court as an All-State selection. They called me soon after that to say he sank the game-winning layup in the last seconds of the state championship game to give Brownsburg High top honors in Indiana's legendary Hoosier Hysteria tournament.
Hayward left for Butler after that. When I first interviewed him in 2010 with his new set of Bulldogs streaking toward the NCAA Tournament, he was Butler's leading scorer and rebounder. I was kidding about that Rhodes Scholar thing, but he also was a two-time academic All-American. I almost could hear Gordie saying, "I told you so." After I mentioned to what had become one of the nation's most versatile players how his grandfather predicted his success long ago, he eased into a smile before saying, "Yeah, he's always been very supportive," and then he spent the rest of the time stressing "we" more than "me."
I joined Gordie on his grandson's bandwagon. I watched the youngest of the Gordon Haywards up close and personal later that spring, when Butler shocked enough folks through March Madness to live a fairy tale. Not only did the Bulldogs reach the championship game of the Final Four against Duke for a David-versus-Goliath classic, but they played in downtown Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium, just six miles from campus.
My media seat was right behind the Butler bench. I was close enough to whisper more Gordie stories into the ear of his grandson during timeouts. With the majority of those stuffed inside of the dome cheering like crazy for the Bulldogs who were the ultimate underdogs, the roof threatened to explode from the rising noise when the game became an all-time thriller down the stretch. Duke led by two in the final seconds, but Hayward heaved a prayer of a shot just inside of half court as the buzzer sounded, and the ball kissed the backboard, then bounced against the front of the rim.
Butler didn't win.
"To this day, I run into people constantly round here who talk about that game and how my grandson almost helped Butler pull it out, because it showed how he never gives up," the grandfather said. "He's had a great career. Since I got to know some people in Salt Lake City when I lived there for a year and a half, I wish he would have stayed in Utah, but that's just me. He's back with his old college coach in Boston, and he doesn't have to try to get past Golden State anymore since he's moved to the Eastern Conference. I'll tell you what. He's such a good guy, and we couldn't be more proud of him."
Here's what folks really are wondering: Will the youngest of the Gordon Haywards name his first son after the father, the grandfather, the great-grandfather and the great-great grandfather?
Gordie chuckled, saying, "It might happen. I don't know."