BROWNSBURG, Ind. — It’s early March, just hours before the 2019-20 NBA season will be unexpectedly suspended, and a handful of Gordon Hayward’s high school teammates and coaches have journeyed back to Brownsburg High School and a pristine new purple-tinged gym to share stories about their childhood pal turned NBA superstar.
“If the city of Boston only knew how goofy this kid was in high school,” said Gino Calderon, drawing chuckles from former teammates J.D. Crosby and Blake Hall seated beside him.
Calderon had been in BankersLife Fieldhouse the night before to support his old pal during the Celtics' win over their hometown Pacers. Now, with Hayward's state All-Star jersey hanging behind him, the invitation is extended to detail just how goofy Hayward had been.
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Calderon and Co. do not disappoint. The trio launch into stories — some old, some new — while attempting to explain just how unfathomable it is that a nerdy Midwest boy morphed into some sort of GQ-ready superstar whose signature haircut is requested by kids in New England by citing his name.
WILLING TO SCREAM AT YOUR MOM
Even in high school, Brownsburg teammates used to berate Hayward about being too unselfish, to the point where head coach Joshua Kendrick pulled Hayward aside after a summer game and pleaded with him to be more aggressive, particularly with the game in the balance. An unfazed Hayward explained how his teammates needed to be ready to take a final shot, too, foreshadowing a big moment in the sectional finals months later.
But for all the laments about Hayward being too passive — criticism that follows him to this day — his friends suggest that, inside, there is an absolutely ruthless competitor who does not take losing well.
“Shy and competitive,” said Hall. "He would be the shy kid walking down the hall and not really talking to anyone. But then you get him in a video game contest, he starts screaming, hollering, and punching people. So it was kind of a bipolar — from shy to very competitive and aggressive in one person.”
That competitiveness took center stage at a memorable holiday gathering.
In what would become a New Year’s Eve tradition, the Haywards hosted families of his high school teammates at their Brownsburg home. All the invited, both parents and high schoolers, would get split into two-person teams for a tournament-style competition that would incorporate games like foosball, ping-pong, and billiards.
Each team would have a skilled “A” player and a less talented “B” player. And, well, we’ll let Hall tell the story from here.
"Gordon was always the ‘A' player. And I just remember one time he was stuck with one of the moms who was not coordinated at all,” said Hall. "And he was getting audibly frustrated and screaming. Like the whole room just stops and looks at him and he realized he was screaming at one of our moms. But it was just kinda funny because it was his goal to win every game of the tournament even though there's 20 people involved.”
G-TIME ON THE MIC
Amid a steady stream of chop-busting, Calderon turned momentarily serious to hammer home a point: Hayward’s brief hip-hop career is wildly underrated.
“He has bars, by the way,” said Calderon. "Gordon Hayward can rap.”
By now you might have heard about Hayward’s rap track, “Too Big Yo," which seems to resurface every couple of years. The back story is that Brownsburg assistant basketball coach Dave Perkins hosted a pool party for players during Hayward’s senior year and an in-water wrestling competition broke out.
“Gordon might have only been like 6-6, he hadn't grown quite yet and he was like a twig,” said Crosby. "So you looked around and, like all of us were much bigger. Julian Mavunga was much bigger. But Gordon whooped everyone. He had to dunk them [underwater] for a certain amount of seconds and I remember that he won and we were kind of like, ‘We just got beat by this little skinny guy.’”
Echoed Calderon: "I just recall we had no idea that Gordon was going to win that thing. I mean, I was a bystander in that one because I was short, but here's an interesting story. So I remember, in that pool wrestling match, Gordon was wrestling Michael Stalnaker, who was this big muscular dude back in high school. And years later we ended up making a rap song about Michael Stalnaker because he was just too big, yo.”
A rap song?
“It was the little break right before March Madness started [in 2010]. We were just chilling in [Hayward’s] parents' living room and, for whatever reason, we decided to make a rap song,” said Calderon. “We made it in the span of maybe like an hour and a half, and it was just easy to edit it and stuff. And who knew it would have blown up that big right before March Madness?”
The track, which also features Calderon and Boris Golubov, runs counter to Hayward’s typical low-profile demeanor as he raps:
Yo, yo, the name’s G-Time / Big frame, big game, call me big time / Ball hard every night and every day / From the ‘Burg, I rep it in a big way
Come too close, I’ll hit you with the blow by / Straight to the rim, I’m just too high / Stay back and I’ll hit the J / Try to stop me, there’s just no way
Hayward also kinda predicted Butler’s run to the NCAA title game in nearby Indianapolis:
It’s not about me, it’s about the team / Going to the tourney with a full head of steam / 'Chip’s real close, it’s at our back door / Get a few dubs, we’ll be in the Final Four
Reflecting on the track a decade later, Calderon admits Hayward steals the show, coming with strong verses after Calderon and Golubov.
“It's the kind of thing Gordon was good at,” said Crosby. "I feel like, if you looked at him, you couldn't tell, but he was talented at everything. I remember he'd beat us in ping pong, he'd beat us at pool, he played tennis, and then he can make funny rap songs. I don't know if there wasn't anything he couldn't do.”
Without missing a beat, Hall added, “[Rapping is] probably what he's least good at, in my opinion. But he’s so good at everything else.”
DEDICATED TO THE CRAFT
All the stories about Hayward often revert back to a common theme: A relentless thirst for competition.
Asked to describe his former college teammate, Emerson Kampen, now an assistant coach at Butler, describes Hayward as, “Very laid back. Not Mr. Rah Rah. Obviously, he's played a lot of video games his whole life, especially in college. So we would mess with him all the time. We’d try to hop in and play but we weren't anywhere close to how good he was.”
Added Kampen: “He’s just low key. Kept a tight circle. He liked spending time at home with family and friends. And he loved those video games.”
Friends share a story about how tennis star Andy Roddick texted Hayward looking to meet up after he declared for the NBA draft but Hayward was more interested in getting up shots with his friend back home.
Hayward, they say, has always been laser focused.
"So senior year, after we had won states, our families went on a cruise together for spring break and, I mean, it's seven days, we’re 18 years old,” said Hall. "We’re pretty much the only teenagers on the entire ship.
"I remember one afternoon, we get on the elevator, we were going up to play basketball and there were two young girls our age and I'm like, 'These are the first people our age we've seen the entire trip!’ They’re asking us what we're doing. 'Hey, you should come hang out.’ … And Gordon's like, ‘No, we're going to go play basketball.' And then the door opens and I'm like, ‘Well, we'll see you. [Hayward is] really good [at basketball] though. He's gonna play at Butler, so you should catch up with us later.’ And that was it. He's been dedicated to the craft forever.”
The recollection draws loud laughter from his other high school teammates who confirm that ball (and maybe video games) is life for Hayward.
"Gordon, Gordon, Gordon,” said Calderon, shaking his head. “There’s just countless random stories. But I’ll spare him this time around.”