Gordon Hayward and Brad Stevens were a couple inches from winning an NCAA championship together at Butler.
They are now reuniting, to try for an NBA title.
The top remaining free agent in this summer’s class is now off the board, with Hayward announcing Tuesday night with an essay on The Players’ Tribune site he will sign with the Celtics — coached by Stevens — and leave the Jazz after seven seasons.
“This was a life-changing decision for me and my family, and something we took really seriously,” Hayward wrote. “And from the very start of this process, one thing stood out as important: I knew that I wanted the fans and the organizations to hear my decision directly from me.
“After seven years in Utah, I have decided to join the Boston Celtics.”
Hayward reportedly agreed to a four-year contract, the last of those years being a player option, with a total value of around $128 million.
It was a decision Hayward said he agonized over, and he said he was impressed by the pitches — albeit unsuccessful ones — that Miami and Utah made for him over the last few days. But his ties to Stevens, and the memories of how close they were to a title, seemed to weigh very heavily on his mind throughout this process.
Butler went to the NCAA championship game in back-to-back seasons under Stevens in 2010 and 2011, losing to Duke and Connecticut. In the 2010 game, Hayward’s desperation shot to win the title from midcourt narrowly missed as time expired and Duke won 61-59.
From there, Hayward went to the NBA. Not long afterward, Stevens followed. And now, they’re together again.
“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,” Hayward wrote.
Hayward leaves a loaded Western Conference to join a Boston team that was the No. 1 seed in last season’s Eastern Conference playoffs. He was finally an All-Star for the first time last season, averaging career bests of 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds.
Hayward also shot 47 percent, a significant jump over what he managed in the previous four seasons.
His post capped a strange day, after it was widely reported in the early afternoon that Hayward picked the Celtics — a decision immediately shot down by his agent Mark Bartelstein, who told AP and many other outlets that Hayward was still going over his options.
“This has been the toughest decision that I’ve ever had to make in my life,” Hayward wrote. “This weekend has probably been the longest weekend of my life.
“And today … well, today has definitely been one of the craziest days of my life. But I wanted to make sure that I got this right.”
He leaves Utah with the fondest of memories, going back to his start with coach Jerry Sloan.
“I was literally the last Jazz player left who played under Coach Sloan — and I always took that as a lot more than just some piece of trivia,” Hayward wrote. “That was something that truly made me feel like a part of the fabric of this franchise.”