Gordon Hayward answer to Pacers' prayers

April 8, 2010
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At first glance Butler University sophomore Gordon Hayward could be the answer to so many of the Indiana Pacers current problems—on the court, with sponsors and at the turnstile.

At second and third glance, he’s also the answer to those problems.

Let’s start with this premise. Indiana’s sports fans are a fickle bunch. They’re not diehards in the classic sense, and this is why.

They’re all about the people behind the jerseys. That’s why teams' fortunes in this land-locked city rise and fall like an oceanic tide.

With so-called hard core fans in other markets its about some unspoken mystique, the facility and tradition.

The vaunted Yankee Stadium, legendary Wrigley Field. Shoot, some people in Chicago even bemoaned the destruction of the cesspool that was the old Comiskey Park. As I stood in two inches of water inside a bathroom during the last year of the old Comiskey, listening to White Sox fans speak about their beloved ball park, I knew there was a fundamental difference.

And the teams in those markets take on an identity of their own. The Cubs and Bears, Red Sox and Yankees enjoy a strange kind of following—regardless who dons the uniform—I’m not sure a team here ever will.

In Indiana, we cheer Reggie and Peyton, Razor Shines and Slick Leonard. It doesn’t matter if they’re playing in MSA, Bush Stadium or the Fairgrounds Coliseum.

It didn’t matter that Indiana University played in a basketball arena where you couldn’t see the scoreboard from the upper reaches of the main level and felt a touch of vertigo from the balcony, as long as you had Bobby and his boys to cheer on.

And during the glory days of motorsports it was more about A.J. and Mario than it ever was the fabled Brickyard. That might be something the folks at 16th and Georgetown want to note.

This town wants its heroes, not legacies. Hoosiers demand character, not cathedrals. If that makes Indianapolis a soft sports market, so be it.

So that brings us back to the Pacers and Gordon Hayward.

Currently the Pacers are four games from the end of another losing season. Hayward became a household name during the Bulldogs’ run to the NCAA Championship game, and now is pondering a jump to the NBA.

First, let me say the pressure on Hayward should he become a Pacer would be immense. And it’s certainly unfair to pin the hopes of a franchise on the shoulders of a 20-year-old kid.

Still, the marketing opportunities are undeniable. And not because he’s white.

You can count on one hand the number of professional athletes this town would embrace more than Hayward.

I probably don’t need to point out that Gordon Hayward can play. Spindly yes, but so was Miller. And he appears to have the type of leadership skills that are rare, and humility that is rarer yet. These things are the intangibles that make Hoosiers stand up and cheer.

I’m not suggesting he will measure up to Miller, but if Larry Bird thinks Hayward can accomplish two-thirds of what Miller did in Indianapolis, he’d be a fool not to consider drafting him.

Yes, I've heard the knocks on Hayward. My favorite is he's "too nice." But didn't some NFL prognosticators say Peyton Manning was too unemotional.

No offense, but I think it’s safe to say Hayward would have a bigger immediate impact than Tyler Hansbrough, Bird’s first round draft choice last year.

And certainly Bird sees a little bit of himself in the kid from Brownsburg. If he accomplishes one-third of what Bird accomplished, it would be an unbelievable love-fest between this city and the Bulldog known as the Baby-Faced Assassin.

That has to be tempting for Pacers brass. And the best part, Hayward would likely be available when the Pacers select No. 10, mostly because Hayward hasn’t done quite enough to prove himself to be worthy of a higher draft pick—yet.

But isn’t that how basketball operation kingpins like Bird make a name for themselves? Yes, there’s fame and glory in finding hidden gems.

Let’s face it, more than half of Walsh’s career success is owed to his drafting Reggie Miller over Steve Alford. This city couldn’t have been more profuse in their praise of Walsh in the two decades since that decision was made.

What really do the Pacers have to lose? They have almost no one on the roster this community embraces as their own. That as much as the losing is this franchise’s biggest problem.

And what’s available in the draft if they don’t take Hayward? One mock draft has the Pacers taking 6-11 Hassan Whiteside, a freshman out of Marshall. Another has the Pacers drafting 6-8 Kentucky junior Patrick Patterson. Maybe 6-8 sophomore Al-Faroug Aminu out of Wake Forest or 6-10 Georgetown sophomore Greg Monroe will be available. If you like hot overseas stars, 20-year-old Lithuanian Donatas Motiejunas is supposed to be a good 7-footer.

Do any of those send you grabbing for your wallet and heading to Conseco Fieldhouse to buy season tickets? I don’t think so.

And the Pacers need someone who will boost sales now. Not to say they’re taking the short-sighted path here, but my guess is team owner Herb Simon has had a belly full of the $30 million annual losses.

No doubt, Indiana fans clamor to a winner like a moth to a beacon. But Reggie never won us titles. And this city’s love for him never waned.

In Indiana there’s clearly an “it” factor that goes beyond brick and mortar history or decades-old mystique that draws the cheering masses.

So Larry, do you think Gordon Hayward has it?

Hayward's future, not to mention Bird's own, and perhaps even the destiny of this franchise may hang on that answer.

  • Slow down a second....
    Lets let the kid enjoy his 20th year and Butler (yes, I am a BU tix holder).

    Maybe at the end of 2010/2011 season....and maybe not then. I don't see him leaving early.

  • Hayward
    According to this logic the Pacers should have drafted Steve Alford instead of Reggie Miller all those years ago. Butler had a hell of a run, but if Hayward struggled to score against Kyle Singler how will he do against guys like Lebron.

    The best way to start filling the Fieldhouse again is to win games, not make draft choices based on sentimentality.
  • Reaching for Straws
    I hope for his sake Gordon doesn't jump to the NBA this year. He's still a wide eyed kid. And Anthony, Hansbrough hasn't had much of an impact because he's been hurt much of the season. He's still the kind of player Hoosiers can love.
  • Calendar
    Is my calendar wrong? I thought April Fools was last week?
  • hometown hero?
    Hate to be the buzz killer here and, yes, Gordon is wonderful. But putting the capital F in "fickle" -- if we cannot get behind the Talented Tyler or the HOMETOWN kid (aka Josh McRoberts ... a Carmel High School grad, early exit from Duke, layover in Portland and found himself here)... you think fans will get behind Gordon if he doesn't produce double-digit-superman-feats? REEEEALLLY? Or, stepping into the Wayback Machine, Sherman, anyone want to recount Mark Herrmann and the Colts unceremoniously giving him the axe?
  • You have got to be kidding me
    AS -

    You also said IU should have gotten Hayward, when he signed with Butler in 2007. Crean wasn't hired til April 2008.

    Please stick to reporting the business aspects of sports, and not personnel decisions. If Hayward is the answer to the Pacer's prayers, why did he only score 2 FG's against Kyle Singler, who by all accounts is a worse prospect then him?
  • Struggled (come on)
    Haywards struggle against Singler, that's your argument? I hear Jordan was a real bust because he struggled against Dakich in the tournament. Good thing Portland passed on him because of that game.

    I don't know if Hayward will be a good pro or not, but don't base your argument on one game!
  • Huh?
    I never once said Tom Crean should have recruited Gordon Hayward to IU. I am critical that IU missed out on Hayward due to a confluence of factors. That's a systematic problem of IU, not indicative of the job Crean is doing specifically. I'm well aware of the timeline here. I did say if Crean continues to miss out "on the likes of Gordon Hayward ..." meaning future hardwood stars from the Hoosier heartland, of which there will be many, Crean's future at IU will be imperiled. For all the doubters, I will go out on this ledge; Gordon Hayward will be a far more productive pro than many on the current Pacers roster. But again, I must confess, I'm not a hoops coach or a scout. As always, thanks for reading and keep those comments coming.
  • Hayward
  • animal house
    As a long time BU season tix holder, let "us" enjoy Gordon a couple more years before he goes off the the WWF...I mean NBA. (he's not old enough to have a gun permit anyway)

  • Noooooooooooooooo!
    Gordon, get your degree! It's the Butler Way!
  • NBA Demise
    I hate the NBA. The only thing that looks like basketball is the ball. The league is filled with degenerate thugs who couldn't finish college with a signed note from God. They rob kids of a real future by enticing them away from the life they could have by promising them money and women and fame, only to leave them when their knees blow.

    Gordon Hayward is an intelligent young man. I hope he tells every agent in the country to take a flying leap, stays at Butler, finishes his degree and then, MAYBE decides to play basketball in the cesspool "professional" league. I wish the NBA would dry up and blow away.
    • Riiiiggghhhhttt.....
      And let the racist Indiana fans come falling out of the woodwork. Love it when you guys pull the "thugs" theory. Let me know when the next clan rally is so I can protest it.
    • NBA=Tattoos
      NBA=Thugs with tattoos. What a joke!
    • No Fan of the NBA
      Couldn't agree more with Pendleton's comments about the NBA. I can't watch that game anymore.

      As for RandomName saying Indiana fans are racist, "thugs" can be white too, ya know. If anything, YOU lumping the phrase "thugs" with African Americans shows that YOU are the racist. I've seen plenty of white thugs in my day. We'll take clean guys, whether they be black, white, or any other color. We just don't want thugs. And that's what the Pacers became, and need to climb out from under.

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