Born in Indianapolis and raised in the small town of Brownsburg just outside of Indiana’s capital, Gordon grew up loving basketball in a state that embraces the sport above all others.
Around the age of five —before he could even write—Gordon sat down with the help of his father and recorded his goal of playing in the NBA. Little did he know, the kid from the Hoosier State would end up writing something of a Hoosiers story of his own.
Early on, it looked like that story just wasn’t meant to be. Son to two parents measuring at 5’10”, Gordon was told that he was looking at a ceiling somewhere around 6’2”. As a 5’11” high-school freshman, he was hoping and praying for every inch he could get.
“I was praying I was going to be 6-2, because that’s what my doctor said I might be able to be,” he said.
In the meantime, he focused on building the skills that would set him up for success as a guard. With his father, Gordon Sr., he trained to be the best ball handler, outside shooter and facilitator he could be.
Another point of emphasis: the charity stripe. Along with his father, Gordon practiced a free-throw shooting drill named after Indiana Hoosiers great Steve Alford, who stands as one of the best free-throw shooters in NCAA history.
“[My father] was my coach all the way up until high school,” says Hayward. “He was getting me up every morning before school and we’d go out into the backyard. We had a drill called the “Steve Alford Drill”, being from Indiana Steve Alford was one of the best shooters to ever play there. We did his drill before school in the morning and then [my father] would go out and shoot free throws with me.”
Now a sound 80-plus percent free-throw shooter for his career, the skills G-Time developed as a kid growing up in Indiana have served him well to this day.
But while smooth handles and an accurate shooting stroke can make for an outstanding player at the high school level, Gordon knew that a career in the game wasn’t likely if he didn’t break out of his 5’11” mold.
Luckily, he already had a backup plan on a different kind of court. Gordon and his twin sister, Heather, both starred at tennis. He and his sister were a fantastic mixed doubles pair, and Gordon began to dream of winning the state singles title and perhaps earning a collegiate scholarship in tennis.
Knowing the rigors that most tennis stars go through to make it to the pinnacle of the sport, Gordon considered abandoning his dream of playing basketball altogether—but mom wouldn’t allow it. Jody Hayward, ever the supportive mother, urged her son to not give up on his lifelong goal.
“My mom told me to stick with it. Basketball was always my first love and what I loved doing way more than tennis,” Gordon said. “Then I had a big growth spurt and it all went from there.”
That 5’11” freshman sprouted to 6’8” by his senior year. Suddenly, the kid who was a solid guard had turned into an incredible, unique swingman with a guard skill set.
Standing at 5’10” himself, Gordon Sr. sees his son’s genetically inexplicable height as some kind of divine intervention.
“It was definitely a gift from God,” Gordon Sr. said of his son’s growth spurt.
He turned almost into a different player overnight. As his high school coach Joshua Kendrick described, it was “like a kid discovered superpowers.”
While the sudden sprouting put Gordon within reach of his goals, his college recruitment didn’t take off quite the same. Most players end up on the radar of schools far before Gordon was able to due to his height.
So Gordon had to dominate the high school game to earn his recognition—and by the end of his career, he did just that. As a senior, Gordon was first-team All-State, recording 18 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. He was also named Player of the Year by the Indianapolis Star.
His crowning moment came in the 4A state championship game. Gordon’s Brownsburg team trailed Marion High School by one point with 2.1 seconds left on the clock. The long inbound down low was batted around, but G-Time was there to corral the lose ball and hoist up the game-winning layup at the buzzer, giving his team the state title in a 50-49 win.
By the time that humongous shot went down, a few colleges in the Hoosier State, knew of Gordon. IUPUI, Purdue and Butler each extended him a scholarship offer.
It was a dicey decision. Should Gordon play for Purdue, his parents’ alma mater and one of the Big Ten’s most dominant programs? Or should he stay a bit closer to home and spurn the Boilermakers for Butler?
The Bulldogs’ young head coach Brad Stevens pushed hard for the services of Brownsburg’s star. After several visits and meetings, Stevens had done his best to sell an NBA dream and a players-first, academically accommodating program to Gordon and his family.
When he made his final pitch, Stevens sat back and just prayed that the humble Hayward would call to accept the offer.
“I was blown away with him,” Stevens said. “And what really stuck out was no matter what he did in high school, it looked like it would translate right to college.”
“We just felt like he was a good basketball player, and he knows it. But he has no idea how good. He sat in there, a pretty quiet and reserved kid. He left our office, and boy, we were hoping and praying we would get that phone call.”
After consideration, Gordon decided to make that phone call, choosing to attend Butler along with his twin sister and best friend, Heather. The Haywards were going to be Bulldogs.
Butler was fresh off its best season in history when Gordon arrived, but the Bulldogs were expected to see a drop off in his first year.
Three of Butler’s top four scorers from its 30-4 run in 2007-08 had departed, leaving Gordon and several other newcomers to take on major roles right away.
The Bulldogs were picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the Horizon League, but they blew those expectations away. Just as Stevens had predicted during his recruitment, G-Time’s skill set translated immediately.
As a freshman, No. 20 tallied 13.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, both second only to forward Matt Howard—the only key returner from the previous season. The Bulldogs started 19-1, with just one defeat to No. 21 Ohio State, and they went on to finish the regular season 25-4 with the Horizon regular-season title in hand.
They fell just three points short of winning the Horizon tournament, but still earned a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tourney. There, Butler was matched with LSU and fell 75-71.
Gordon earned Horizon League Newcomer of the Year and first-team All-Conference, prompting a sit-down with coach Stevens, who told his star player that he had next-level talent.
“We sat down my freshman year, and he said, ‘I think you can play at the next level,’ ” Gordon recalled.
“It was always a dream of mine, but I didn’t really think that was going to happen. I wasn’t highly recruited. I wasn’t anything big in high school. That’s one thing he showed me, that it’s going to take a lot of work, but that I could get there.”
After a fantastic freshman campaign, Gordon began to build some clout in the basketball community.
As a result, he was selected for the Team USA U19 squad, along with Butler teammate Shelvin Mack and several other future NBA players, including Tyshawn Taylor, Klay Thompson and Darius Miller.
On the talented roster, Hayward rose to the top as the squad ran through the FIBA U19 World Championship at 9-0, claiming the gold medal. Gordon averaged 10 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, the highest combined total on the team. The contributions earned him a spot on the tournament’s All-Star Five team.
After led Butler to a surprise 26-6 finish in 2009 and starred on the USA’s U19 squad, the nation knew the name Gordon Hayward. Going into his sophomore season, he was named preseason All-Conference and All-American, while also taking up real estate on several preseason award watch lists.
It was a contrasting dynamic for Gordon and Butler as he entered his sophomore season.
Now, with USA’s U19 international star leading the way, the Bulldogs began the season ranked No. 10 and earned invitations to several high-profile exhibitions early in the season.
Butler took its lumps early, losing to three ranked teams: No. 22 Minnesota, No. 19 Clemson and No. 15 Georgetown. Then the Bulldogs fell to an unranked UAB team on the road, and it looked like those high expectations might be disrupting Butler’s roll.
“It’s just something outside that kind of creeps in naturally,” he said of the team’s preseason expectations. “We went into the season with a lot of expectations, and to kind of fall behind a little bit was hard for us.”
However, after that Dec. 22 loss, Gordon and his team regrouped and set out to show that there would be no sophomore slump. After that defeat, Butler won its next 25 games, going all the way until the national title game.
The run included an 18-0 jaunt in Horizon League play and a clean 2-0 run through the Horizon tournament. At 28-4 the Bulldogs earned the No. 5 seed in a tough West region.
BUTLER’S MAGICAL RUN
Butler’s first two tournament matchups against UTEP and Murray State, saw the Bulldogs trailing at halftime, only to rally for second-half victories. The second win, a low-scoring 54-52 affair that sent Butler to the Sweet 16, was a perfect testament to “The Butler Way,” a defense-first mantra that Gordon and his team rode through the rest of the tourney.
The next two tests came against No. 1 seed Syracuse and No. 2 seed Kansas State. Gordon led the way against the Orange, tallying 17 points and five boards in another defensive battle that sent the Bulldogs to the Elite Eight for the first time.
The following game against K-State brought more of the same, but G-Time was even better, going for 22 points and nine rebounds as Butler locked down late to drop the Wildcats and head home to Indianapolis for the first Final Four appearance in school history.
“He is one tough customer,” then-Kansas State coach Frank Martin said of Gordon. “He doesn’t do the spectacular stuff that makes the people in Row 30 go, ‘Oh my God,’ but he makes every play every time.”
While the Bulldogs were in the Final Four for the first time, the other three programs—Duke, Michigan State and West Virginia—boasted a combined 25 appearances.
Nonetheless, they approached the game with the same confidence they carried all season, and stymied MSU in a 52-50 win. Gordon led the way yet again, with 19 points and nine rebounds, including one as time expired that ended the Spartans’ chance at victory.
“We’ve been talking about the next game all year, and it’s great to be able to say the next game’s for a national championship,” he said after the national semifinal win.
In the championship game, Butler was matched up with Duke, one of the most storied college basketball programs. What ensued was one of the most thrilling title games in history.
But when little Butler met with the juggernaut from the ACC, what ensued was one of the most thrilling title games in history.
The Bulldogs never trailed by more than five points, and while Duke held the lead through much of the contest, Butler was always within striking distance, always applying pressure.
Gordon notched a team-high 12 points and eight rebounds in the defensive struggle, including 8-of-8 shooting from the free-throw line (a salute to the Steve Alford Drill), as he played all 40 minutes of the title fight.
When it came down to the final three seconds of the 40th minute, Butler pushed itself within one point of the win. Duke center Brian Zoubek added another point from the free-throw line, making it 61-59 with 3.6 on the clock. He missed his second attempt and it was Gordon again bringing down a key rebound.
With Butler out of timeouts, No. 20 circled around the Duke defense and sprinted up the floor. He stomped on the halfcourt line and launched clean shot. As the buzzer sounded, the ball arced up, hitting off the center of the backboard, then the front of the rim.
But the nearly legendary shot ended fell to the floor, leaving the Bulldogs just inches away from the national title.
A FAMILY DECISION
After Butler’s incredible run was finished, Gordon was faced with what he called one of the most difficult decisions of his life.
Stevens supported his star as always, knowing full well that he would wind up in the NBA eventually.
“He his certainly one of the better players in the country,” said Stevens. “He can make so many plays that lead to winning. And until you get to this point, people may not realize just how impactful his play can be.
“You know he’s going to be in the NBA, it’s just a matter of when. And you know he’s going to probably have a long career in the NBA. He’s done a great job of not being distracted. He’s an academic All-American, and a dual degree in engineering from Purdue and Butler is what he’s shooting to get.”
Meanwhile, Gordon’s parents went back and forth on the issue, and Jody took the skeptical side of the argument, citing her son’s age and love for Butler as reasons he should return.
“You hear all the bad things about the NBA, temptations and things like that,” Jody said. “I didn’t think he was spiritually strong enough to handle anything like that…Plus, I loved Butler so much—the team, the coach, the influences. I was in denial.”
Eventually, with the help of some painstaking analysis from Gordon Sr., the family came together and made the decision together: Gordon would go pro.
On April 14, 2010, he announced that he was fulfilling his dream of playing in the NBA—a dream he once thought would be nothing more than that.
“That’s something I wouldn’t have ever seen myself doing,” he said of the NBA. “That was my ultimate goal. That’s what I wrote down (with my dad). That was my dream growing up when I was 4 or 5 years old.
“We’ve accomplished some steps to reach the ultimate goal, and so we’ve accomplished all these steps, but I wouldn’t have imagined that I’d be at this point.”
GORDON’S NEW LIST
On draft day, Gordon was a consensus first-round pick, and many believed he would be a lottery pick. As the first eight picks passed, Gordon admitted that he was more nervous in that moment than he was for games at Butler.
“I was more nervous than I get for games,” he said. “They call your name and everyone is looking at you. Growing up, you watch the players get up there and shake the commissioner’s hand. To actually do it was weird but it was really fun.”
Then, the Utah Jazz swiped Gordon off the board with the ninth pick in the 2010 NBA draft, making him the first Butler Bulldog ever taken in the first round.
As Gordon shook David Stern’s hand, checking off the ultimate goal from the list he made before he could even write, he told reporters it was time to make a new list.
“I’m excited, I’m very excited,” he said. “I had that checklist growing up and now I need to make a new one. I’m excited to get to work.”
Gordon joined the Jazz for the 2010-11 season and went to work for a franchise that was poised to make a playoff run. However, that first season came with some turmoil, as Utah ended up trading its franchise point guard, Deron Williams midway through the season.
After parting ways with its veteran PG, Utah made it clear that it was putting stock in its young players, like Gordon. The Jazz eased No. 20 into the league. He appeared in 72 games, starting 17 and averaging 5.4 points and 1.9 rebounds.
Gordon recorded double figures for the first time in late December, when he dropped 17 with six boards against the Los Angeles Clippers. His role was limited for much of the year, but he exploded over the final stretch of the season, as he averaged 18 points over the last six games.
He capped his rookie campaign with a career-high 34-point eruption against the Denver Nuggets. His success late showed him that possessed the skills necessary to thrive in the league, but that first season mostly served as a learning experience, and No. 20 went to work at filling out his list of where he could improve.
“I knew I had to get better at handling the basketball, that was always going to be the big thing for me,” says Hayward. “If you can handle the ball and go where you want to go with it, it can really open up every part of your game. During my rookie year, I was really just a spot up shooter and I wanted to become a lot more than that.”
UTAH’S RISING STAR
G-Time showed some signs of his versatility that first year, but knew he could do more. In Year 2, he took on a starting role in the lockout-shortened season. His minutes nearly doubled from 16.9 to 30.4 per game. The offseason work also paid off, as his output multiplied to 11.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
Meanwhile, the Jazz also made a great team turnaround.
After finishing 11th in the Western Conference in 2011, the Jazz nabbed the No. 8 seed in 2012, finishing six games above .500. However, Gordon’s first postseason berth was a short one. Utah was swept by top-seed San Antonio.
Even still, Gordon’s second year was a confidence builder. No. 20 broke double figures 42 times, including a 17-point output in his first playoff game against the Spurs.
Now finding his role with the Jazz, things only improved for Gordon. His role remained similar, but he only became more efficient. He scored 14.1 points per game, an increase of 2.3 points per contest, despite playing fewer minutes. Meanwhile, the Jazz were one of stronger offensive teams in the league.
However, in the stacked West, Utah fell short of the playoffs at ninth in the conference, despite winning 43 games.
While Gordon began to settle into his role with Utah during the 2012-13 season, the following year brought a new set of challenges. The Jazz parted ways with their top two scorers, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, leaving Gordon with the task of becoming Utah’s go-to scoring option.
But as he would soon prove, Gordon was ready for that role.
“You definitely have to have a swag,” Hayward said of being a team’s top scorer. “You have to play with confidence. You have to know that you’re one of the best guys on the court and play like it too. … It’s something that I embrace. It’s a challenge, but it’s something that I’m excited about.”
Gordon turned that swag on during his fourth year in the league and assumed the lead role for the Jazz. The guard skill set he developed as a child and the versatility he polished while at Butler has been on display.
No. 20 has started 75 games for Utah this season, leading the squad with 16.1 points per contest. He has also dished out 5.2 assists while pulling down five rebounds and1.5 steals per game, making four career highs.
The outstanding season for Gordon has also brought a new single-game career-high in scoring: a 37-point outburst against one of the West’s best teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
While Utah fell short of the 2014 playoffs, Memphis head coach Dave Joerger praised the Jazz star, describing the skill set that makes him a franchise player.
“He’s trying to be a franchise guy and, well, he should,” Joerger said of Gordon. “He’s a terrific player. He plays hard, he runs hard, he cuts hard. By and large, he makes open shots. He’s a tough cover. He plays the right way. He plays the way you would want your kids to play.”
Gordon has been happy with his output this season, and he’s fully enjoying the ride as he fulfills his dream of playing in the NBA. While he’s right where he wants to be right now, he’s always looking for ways to improve and new challenges to conquer throughout his journey.
“[I’m] playing basketball for a living, I’m engaged to a beautiful woman—I’m living the life right now. I’m trying to soak it all in and at the same time get better as a basketball player. I still think there’s a lot more room for me to grow and a lot more places to go.”
FIRMLY PLANTED IN UTAH
During the 2014 offseason, Gordon faced a crossroads of his career as a restricted free agent. He received a max offer sheet from the Charlotte Hornets and looked bound for the East Coast—until the Jazz matched the offer to bring back their franchise swingman.
G-Time rewarded the Jazz with the best individual season thus far in his career. No. 20 averaged a career-high 19.3 points per game, adding 4.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists to that scoring tally. The young Utah club had a bit of a slow start, hitting just a 19-34 mark at the All-Star break, but they exploded in the second half.
By season’s end, the Jazz had battled their way into the playoff conversation in the stacked Western Conference. They ultimately fell short, finishing 38-44, but their post-ASB record was the sixth best in the NBA, giving them high hopes going into the 2015 offseason.
“We finished this season so strong, winning so many games, it naturally gets you more excited. It gives you a boost in your work ethic and makes you want to work even harder,” G-Time said. “I’m looking forward to the offseason and looking forward to putting in the work.”
Gordon’s 2014-15 campaign was highlighted by a monster performance while going head-to-head with this generation’s best player: LeBron James. Gordon got the best of King James several times throughout the night, tallying 21 points and seven assists—and he splashed home the deciding bucket at the buzzer of the 102-100 win over the eventual Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
Gordon started to heat up individually in February, posting back-to-back 30-point games in a pair of wins over the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans, boosting Utah into the All-Star break. When the Jazz returned from the break, they were a different team.
With the long-armed Rudy Gobert manning the post and protecting the rim, Utah became one of the most feared defensive squads in the NBA. The Jazz allowed triple-digit points just five times after the break and finished the season at No. 1 in the NBA defensively, allowing just 94.9 points per contest.
The Jazz logged back-to-back wins over playoff opponents in the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs right out of the break. In March, Utah reeled off a six-game win streak, highlighted by three 24-plus point performances by No. 20. In his final game of the season, Gordon totaled 27 points and seven rebounds against another playoff opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies. Fighting a litany of minor injuries, G-Time was shut down for the final three games—but he brought plenty of lessons along with him into the offseason.
“We had a lot of experiences this year, and I think that was a success,” Gordon said during his exit interview. “Whether we won or lost in those moments, it will only help us in the future. We had a lot of games that went down to the wire—we won some, we lost some, we hit some big shots, we missed some big shots, and that’s ultimately just going to help us out further down the road.”
A STEP FORWARD
The Jazz took another step forward in 2015-16, and they did it behind another year of progression from their star swingman.
Gordon again upped his scoring average, making it six straight years, tallying 19.7 points per game along with 5.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He also started and played in a career-high 80 games, leading Utah to a 40-42 record.
As their win total increased, the Jazz were right in the thick of the playoff race all year long in the extremely competitive Western Conference, though they ended up just one game back of the eighth spot in the West.
“I think just based off the experiences we’ve all gained individually and collectively as a team, we’ve been in a lot of big moments,” Hayward said. “We’re trending in the right way.”
The Jazz won four of their first six, despite playing their first three games on the road. G-Time took a few contests to settle in on an individual level but had a breakthrough 33-point game on Nov. 25 for his first career win over the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center. Gordon added seven rebounds and three steals on a tremendous night as the Jazz came through with a big 102-91 win.
No. 20 logged 10 20-point games in December and continued to play well as the winter rolled along. He torched the Miami Heat for 34 points and hit the Hornets with 36, both in January. Utah won seven of its last eight games leading up to the All-Star break, putting them firmly in the playoff fight out West.
The seventh of those eight wins came on a brilliant step-back buzzer beater by G-Time in a 121-119 win on the road over the Dallas Mavericks.
“He’s made a believer out of people that are around him,” Snyder said of Gordon. “I think he’s just dug in. He has had to put a team on his back. Not just the scoring, the emotional part of it. I’ve asked even more of him defensively with those guys out.”
The Jazz didn’t stop there. They another OT win against a fellow playoff contender, the Houston Rockets, behind 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists by No. 20 on Feb. 23.
However, Utah stumbled a bit in late February and early March, dropping seven of eight games. Gordon was fighting an individual battle with plantar fasciitis, which forced him to miss his only two games of the season. But the Jazz rallied, winning eight of 11 to close out the month and grab the No. 7 slot in the West.
But with seven games remaining, the Jazz’s youth showed. Utah went head-to-head with a some of the West’s top veteran squads, not only in the playoff race, but also on the court in the month of April. The Jazz dropped key contests to the Spurs, the Clippers and the Dallas Mavericks, causing them to fall just shy of the postseason.
Gordon left he season disappointed with the ending, but looking forward to what the Jazz can do in 2016-17.
“It’s frustrating. We felt like we could have been in the playoffs, and probably should have been,” Gordon said. “That was the goal for us coming into the season. But we dealt with a lot. We had four of our main guys go down this year, and still, guys stepped up. Even through all the adversity that we had, we gave ourselves a shot, and even though we fell short, I’m proud of the way that we battled and competed. We played some of the best teams to ever play, and with one of the least experienced teams in the league, we took them down to the wire. We did a lot of things that will help us in the future.”