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BOSTON – Aron Baynes sat down Wednesday afternoon at Gordon and Robyn Hayward’s kitchen table in Wellesley, Massachusetts, surrounded by cupcakes, polka-dotted party hats, and a few close friends and family members.
Baynes’ 2-year-old son Mason sat to his left. Daniel Theis and 2-year-old daughter Laila sat on the opposite side of the table. Between them were the Haywards, standing behind 3-year-old daughter Bernie and soon-to-be-2-year-old daughter Charlie.
Ten days removed from postseason elimination, these three Celtics players could have been anywhere on this particular afternoon – lounging on an exotic beach, relaxing with a book, playing video games – but this vacation day would be spent celebrating the third birthday of Bernie. And they wouldn’t have had it any other way.
The adults began to sing “Happy Birthday,” while the sweet-toothed youths stared wide-eyed at the “Paw Patrol” themed cake sitting on the table in front of them.
Baynes’ booming Australian voice trailed off at one point, as he leaned down to encourage Mason to sing along, but the toddler had his eyes set on the prize in front of him and was waiting for his cue.
As soon as the song ended, Mason leaned forward, cheeks puffed out, ready to extinguish the flame that danced atop a pink No. 3 candle in the center of the cake. But before the air could escape his lungs, his father leaned forward with an “Uh-oh!” and pulled him back, generating laughter from the Haywards as their birthday girl blew out her candle.
It was such an innocent and simple moment, but it was one that was deeply cherished by all involved. As professional athletes, family time is hard to come by. However, the offseason allows them to bond more with their children and with each other off the court.
“Throughout the season, we can’t be around a lot of the time,” Baynes said Thursday morning during the Celtics’ annual Stay in School Arbella event at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury. “We prioritize our offseason with being with the kids as much as we can. So, just doing little things like that, it’s a great thing.”
Baynes, Hayward and Theis, all new to Boston within the past year, formed a tight-knit friendship off the court over the course of their first season together.
What brought them close wasn’t just basketball, but also their families. All three men are married, and they each have kids ranging in age from one to three. And their days together at the Hayward household allow them, their wives and their children to all bond.
“It’s a great, great thing just being able to hang out with the teammates,” said Baynes. “We try to hang out with Al (Horford) and his bunch as well, he’s got a couple of young kids right around that age group. So, it’s a good thing.”
From Day 1, Baynes could tell that the Celtics were an organization that encouraged such relationships. He calls it a “family-first” organization, which is something of which coach Brad Stevens has been an advocate of all along.
“Brad preached it, and he definitely lives it as well,” said Baynes. “You see the coaching staff, they have their little group of kids that are on the court every chance they get. And they’re running around after practice, before practice. Hopefully that keeps going for our young bunch and they all get to play together for a long time.”
Baynes’ future isn’t certain with Boston, as he will be entering free agency in less than a month. But what is certain is the admiration he’s garnered for the city and its beloved basketball team.
“The family absolutely loves Boston,” said Baynes. “I love Boston. It’s been an amazing place for us.”
He added, “It definitely would be a privilege to be able to come back here and keep playing with these guys. The unfortunate side of things is the business side, but, I definitely love my time here and I love wearing the green jersey for sure.”
However, those aren’t the types of things that are discussed at family gatherings such as Bernie’s birthday party. In fact, basketball wasn’t discussed much at all Wednesday afternoon, according to Baynes.
“We didn’t speak too much about anything else apart from what cupcakes were the best,” he said with a laugh.
Days such as those are spent just living in the moment, enjoying family time together, and embracing every simple moment that comes along. For Baynes and his closest teammates, that’s what the offseason is all about.