BOBBY JOHNSON | STAFF REPORTER
With about two seconds left in the 2008 Indiana Class 4A state title game, Gordon Hayward found the ball in his hands and laid it in to win the state championship for Brownsburg High School.
Last Wednesday, the former Butler basketball star came up clutch again—but on a much bigger stage. Hayward drilled the game-winning shot to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers, whom many have predicted to win the NBA title.
With the game tied and LeBron James guarding him, Hayward managed to break free from James with 3.4 seconds left and take the inbounds pass from Joe Ingles. Hayward dribbled right and put up a step-back jumper from just inside the three-point line, falling through the basket as time expired to beat the Cavaliers 102-100.
Freshman Butler track athlete and NBA fan Johnny Leverenz said that he has found motivation through Hayward and his journey to the NBA.
“He inspires me as an athlete because of his hard work he put in, and the success he had at Butler led him to become a well-known pro-athlete,” he said.
Hayward finished the game with 21 points, four rebounds and seven assists and drew the assignment of guarding four-time MVP LeBron James.
Hayward proved himself worthy.
He chased down James toward the end of the second quarter after a steal to block his shot from behind, causing the home crowd to erupt. He then sprinted back down the court and took a pass from Alec Burks, resulting in a slam dunk.
Hayward has provided inspiration and motivation to students, such as Leverenz, who watch Hayward on television and realize what is possible when hard work meets talent.
“Seeing Gordon Hayward succeed at the NBA level is awesome because he went to the same school we are all at now not too long ago,” Leverenz said.
Hayward, who left Butler to enter the NBA draft after the 2010 NCAA title game loss, is expected to be the focal point in the Utah Jazz after signing a four-year, $63 million contract this past year. So far, he has been just that. He is averaging career highs in points (19.2), rebounds (6.6), and assists (5.6) through five games this season.
Freshman track athlete and NBA fan Michael Carey said that Hayward is proving that he deserved a maximum salary.
“This just shows that Hayward can play with the best in the league,” Carey said. “He has gotten better every year and has become the best player on his team, worthy of a max contract.”
This past summer, Hayward earned himself a tryout for the FIBA World Cup team, which featured many of the NBA’s biggest stars, including Stephen Curry, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. Hayward was very close to making the team but was one of the final four players cut from the 12-man roster that went on to win the international tournament.
Carey said, similar to Leverenz and Carey, Hayward was once a little-known Butler freshman. He is proof of how hard work can create a much different end result. Hayward has provided him and all other Butler athletes with the opportunity to do what he once did and has established the benchmark to succeed for the mid-major program.
“He is out there proving that it does not matter what people think about a small school,” Carey said. “He shows us that, by working hard and trusting the amazing coaching staffs we have here, we set our own limits.”