Pistons’ Ivey plays with purpose, dedicates NBA debut to grandfather

Detroit News

Detroit — When Jaden Ivey arrived at Little Caesars Arena for his first official NBA game, he did so with purpose.

Ivey, who has several family ties to Detroit, wore a Lions jersey gifted by the Pistons shortly after he was drafted, to honor his late grandfather, James Hunter.

When Ivey was introduced during the pregame warmups, Pistons fans gave him one of the loudest ovations. And once the game started, the former Purdue star used his quickness to cut inside the paint off a scoop from Cade Cunningham to score his first career basket and Detroit’s first points of the game.

Just as he did in his preseason debut against the New York Knicks, Ivey controlled his pace and maintained his composure, which in turn, helped the Pistons succeed. He scored 10 of his 19 points during the third quarter of Detroit’s 113-109 win over the Magic, their first victory in a season opener since 2019.

It was Ivey’s NBA debut, but he said he immediately felt comfortable as soon as he stepped on the court.

“I did (feel comfortable). I just kind of talked to my grandpa, who’s up in heaven,” Ivey said after the game. “Just told him to give me the strength to go out there at a high level and just play to my strengths.”

The Lions drafted Hunter, a former defensive back, with the 10th overall pick in 1976. He totaled a career-high seven interceptions in his rookie season and finished as the runner-up for NFL Rookie of the Year behind Hall of Fame cornerback Mike Haynes.

Hunter led the Lions in interceptions during three of his seven seasons with the franchise and finished with 27 during his career. His football career ended in 1982 due to a neck injury. Hunter died in 2010 after an apparent heart attack.

Ivey’s parents, Niele Ivey and Javin Hunter — the son of James Hunter — attended Ivey’s NBA debut at Little Caesars Arena. Niele, head coach of the Notre Dame women’s basketball team, played five years in the WNBA, including one season with the Detroit Shock. Javin attended Detroit Country Day and was drafted to the NFL in 2002 by the Baltimore Ravens.

Wednesday’s game was a moment Jaden had dreamed of since he was a child. An hour following his impressive debut, Ivey took to Twitter to offer a brief statement: “Detroit vs. everybody,” the popular mantra and clothing line designed by Tommey Walker.

“You dream as a kid to one day play your first NBA game,” Ivey said. “It’s just special that I get to play for Detroit as a kid that grew up watching Detroit, just playing in that environment, it was special for me.”

Pistons at Knicks

Tipoff: 7:30 Friday, Madison Square Garden

TV/radio: BSD/WWJ

Outlook: The Pistons are looking to start a season 2-0 for the first time since the 2018-19 season, when they won four straight before a loss. That season also was the last time they made the playoffs. It will be the home opener for the Knicks, who lost their first game on the road to the Memphis Grizzlies.

mcurtis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @MikeACurtis2

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