Grandson of a Lion, son of a Shock, Detroit Pistons’ Jaden Ivey already seems like one of us

Detroit Free Press

Four jerseys told the most amazing story.

A pure Detroit sports story.

A story about basketball and family and coming back home.

Jaden Ivey stood on the stage between his mother and father, covering his face with his hand, overcome with emotion, wiping tears from his eyes.

“Yeah, it’s happening,” somebody screamed.

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His mother, Niele Ivey, rubbed his back; and his father, Javin Hunter, rubbed his shoulder.

Jaden held his new Detroit Pistons’ No. 23 jersey after an introductory news conference on Friday at Rouge Park. He was the fifth pick in the NBA draft — a fantastic talent who gives the Pistons blazing speed in the back court.

His mother held her No. 33 Detroit Shock jersey. She played here in 2005 and is now the head women’s basketball coach at Notre Dame.

His father held a No. 20 basketball jersey that he wore at Birmingham Detroit Country Day, before a football career that took him to the NFL.

And Jaden and Javin held the last one together, each one grabbing a corner of a No.26 Detroit Lions jersey, the same number worn by Jaden’s late grandfather, James Hunter, who played for the Lions from 1976-82.

They posed for pictures and Jaden stopped, having to wipe more tears from his eyes.

“You can see my emotions,” Jaden said. “This is my family. They helped me get to this stage and just to see all the jerseys, it just made me emotional.”

“What did your grandpa mean to you?” I asked.

“He meant everything to me,” Jaden said. “That’s why I kind of got teary eyed because he sacrificed a lot for me and helped my mother out when she needed help. He was just a great dude. He did a lot for Detroit. A lot of people remember him as a great guy who was in the community interacting with people and he’s why I get so emotional. So to be a Piston, to be in the city of Detroit, it’s an honor to be here.”

Oh man, it’s hard not to love this kid already.

Jaden Ivey represents everything the Pistons are trying to find. He is ridiculously athletic and gifted, and he has a burst like few others.

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No, wait. He’s got a burst just like his father and grandfather.

“If you look at some of the things that they say about Jaden, those are the same things that they said about us at one point in time,” his father said. “He’s been blessed with a lot of God-given ability, but the thing I love about my son is he doesn’t rely on that. He works. He’s a gym rat.”

Yes, the list of things to love about him is long. His intangibles are off the charts.

Made in Detroit

There are just so many strange elements to this story.

His mother was an assistant coach for the Memphis Grizzlies from 2019-20 and part of her job was to scout opposing teams.

“I actually scouted the Pistons when I was with the Memphis Grizzlies,” she said.

During those deep dives into the Pistons, she grew to appreciate Dwane Casey’s coaching ability.

“I know that he’s an incredible coach and has an incredible system and has turned this organization around,” she said. “Meeting him today, I was even more impressed from his basketball knowledge, but also the man that he is, his character. I was very impressed by that. As a mom, I’ve always wanted my son to be around great men that are going to be role models to him to help teach him more than just basketball. So I’m very impressed and I feel like he’s in the right place.”

That makes just about everybody.

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During the news conference, as Casey spoke about his plans with her son, stressing the fundamentals, she sat in her seat and just nodded her head in agreement. She was flipping between being a mom and basketball coach.

“This is a full circle moment,” she said. “Now to be watching my son live out his dreams and in a city that I’m very familiar with, but also that we have a lot of family ties with, I’m super excited.”

Everybody seems to love this pick.

Not just because he is so talented.

But because he already seems one of us.

He understands this city.

Jaden used to go to the Greg Kelser basketball camp and spend days hooping at the Joe Dumars’ Fieldhouse.

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He would come to Michigan to visit his grandmother, who owns a clothing store in the Fisher Building.

And he’d hang out with his grandfather.

“I remember everything,” Jaden said. “I remember my mom when she had to go recruit or had to go on a road trip, and my grandpa would pick me up. We would go down here and we would kick it, you know, play golf. Go to the Joe Dumars (Fieldhouse) … I just have so many great memories of being in this place. And I’m just so happy to be in the city.”

James Hunter died in 2010 at the age of 56 from an undiagnosed heart issue.

And in some ways, Jaden represents a family of athletes whose careers went unfinished.

“When you look at it, my father and I, our careers ended early,” Javin said. “My father had a neck injury, temporarily paralyzed, he had to quit early. Me? I tore my Achilles my second year and ultimately ended my career early. So all of those those dreams, all that passion to play kind of manifested into Jaden.”

It manifested into this amazing moment.

Who could see this coming?

Well, Arn Tellem, the Pistons vice chairman, for one.

So he ordered the jerseys.

Not Friday morning after the draft.

He got them three weeks before the draft.

Which tells you how badly the Pistons wanted him and how badly they wanted him.

“I hope you frame these wherever you live,” Tellem told Jaden. “And every night look at them as your inspiration and your incredible ties to the city. We’re so happy to have you and Jalen, and I’m looking forward to a great run going forward. So welcome.”

Actually, it’s welcome back for all of them, and that’s the best part of all.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: How Cam Vieaux walked on at MSU, turned down Tigers and had magical MLB debut

Contact Jeff Seidel: Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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