The last shot Gordon Hayward took on behalf of Brad Stevens – 2,650 days ago, give or take – lives forever in replay heaven. Last March, next March, every March.
The final seconds of the 2010 national championship game, the half-court heave, the ball banging off the backboard and then clanging off the rim. The close-shave champions leaping into a Duke-pile. And Hayward walking away, having fired his final Butler bullet in a 61-59 loss.
One Shining Moment, juxtaposed with What Might Have Been.
Someone wondered of Hayward at last winter’s NBA All-Star Game, how often does he still think about that moment in 2010? “I don’t think about it usually until somebody asks about it, so thank you for that,” he said. “But usually every March, too.”
Well, it’s July, but The Shot (Almost) Heard ‘Round the World will get a lot of play this month, now that Hayward and Stevens are a duet again, with the Boston Celtics.
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They’ve gone thisaway and thataway in the seven years since that night in downtown Indianapolis. Hayward became that most rare species; a Butler player leaving early for the NBA, and ended up in Utah. Stevens left three years later, for Boston. Stevens now? Maybe he’s aged a tad, though he might still be getting carded when he’s 50. Hayward? Maturity is much more visible. He is now a husband and father and a star with a beard. “Time flies for sure,” he said. “Just looking at pictures, you can just see the difference in both of us, and where we’ve come.”
He said that in February, and where they’ve come now is together again. We have not seen this college/NBA echo happen very often.
There was Larry Brown and Danny Manning, who together carried 11-loss Kansas to an unlikely 1988 national championship as coach and star. “Danny and the Miracles,” became those Jayhawks’ moniker to carry through history. Five years later, Brown and Manning reconvened for one season with the Los Angeles Clippers, Brown making a temporary stop on his restless coaching journey from here to there, Manning earning his first All-Star berth. But there was no championship to chase. The Clippers were gone in the first round of the playoffs.
But here’s one that sounds awfully similar to Stevens and Hayward.
In 1959, West Virginia just missed a national title, losing in anguish to California 71-70. The coach was an alum, Fred Schaus. The star was a small-town West Virginia kid named Jerry West. Together, they would go 81-12 as Mountaineers.
Two years later, both were Los Angeles Lakers, in a quest for the championship that had just slipped away in college. And they would come so close. Four times, they marched to the NBA Finals. Four times, the Boston Celtics were waiting there to torment them. West eventually won a championship, but by then, Schaus had moved first to the front office, and then back to college to coach Purdue.
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A half-century later, there is a lot of Schaus and West in the Stevens-Hayward story. Both are Indiana guys, their high schools 15 miles apart. Stevens was once the marketing associate in the world of business, Hayward once the computer engineer major.
But basketball became their calling, and now they get the chance to relive 2010 in a way. Their world is vastly different, of course. Back then, Stevens recruited Hayward o Butler with offer of a scholarship. This time, it took $128 million over four years.
But the quest is still the same. Stevens is still standing on the sideline, the picture of poise, Hayward is still wearing No. 20.
In an essay explaining his decision on The Players’ Tribune, Hayward mentioned how much he had relied on Stevens’ input when he was deciding whether to leave Butler for the draft. And how much he relied on it again this month.
“I had to make an even tougher decision – and again, Coach Stevens and I found ourselves at a crossroads together. And again, he was the person I knew I could count on most,” Hayward wrote.
So it’s just not the replays from that spring at Butler that live on. So does the relationship, and the goal. Hayward shot 2-for-11 that night in 2010. Just guessing he hasn't forgotten those numbers.
This from Hayward: “That unfinished business we had together, back in 2010, when I left Butler for the NBA . . . as far as I’m concerned, all of these years later, we still have it.
“And that’s to win a championship.”
Unlike Schaus and West, they won’t have Bill Russell in the way. Only LeBron James, and a certain bunch of Warriors from Golden State.