(RL note: He signed w/ Spurs as a free agent. Wish he had joined them in a trade - then the Spurs would have traded for the proverbial "player to be named later.")
By Jeff McDonald
ExpressNews.comhttp://www.expressnews.com/news/local/a ... cf927fc3fb
James White #4 of the New York Knicks fouls Jeff Pendergraph #29 of the Indiana Pacers in the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden on November 18, 2012 in New York City. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)
In July, the Spurs signed a free-agent forward named Jeff Pendergraph to a two-year contract.
No player by that name will ever appear in a Spurs uniform.
Last month, Pendergraph walked into a courthouse in downtown Phoenix, his wife Raneem and newborn daughter Naomi in tow.
He walked out with a new name — Jeff Ayres.
Ayres is the family name of his biological father, James. It replaces the surname of a stepfather who hasn't been in the picture since the player formerly known as Jeff Pendergraph was in high school.
For the 26-year-old veteran of three NBA seasons, the journey from Pendergraph to Ayres was in some ways as simple as filling out a thick stack of paperwork and filing it with an Arizona judge.
It also was a complicated decision with a complex back story, one that tests the traditional definitions of blood and family.
“I didn't know who my dad was until I was a senior in high school,” Jeff Ayres said Wednesday, during a break from pickup games at the Spurs' practice gym.
He was born Jeff Orcutt, using his mother LaDona's maiden name, and became Pendergraph in elementary school when she married.
Growing up in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., 45 miles east of Los Angeles, the future Jeff Ayres dreamed his biological father was someone famous, such as Denzel Washington or Shaquille O'Neal.
A doctor. A musician. Somebody who was somebody.
“It turns out it was a mechanic named James,” Ayres said.
There wasn't much of a relationship between father and son. Not at first. James Ayres never attended Jeff's games in high school, nor in college at Arizona State.
By then, the son had outgrown the Pendergraph name — “That's not my blood,” he said — but changing it seemed impractical.
“In high school and recruiting, that's how everybody knew me, as Pendergraph,” Ayres said. “I didn't want to change it, because then people wouldn't know who I was. It stuck.”
It stuck through three NBA seasons, two with Portland and one with Indiana, where last season the 6-foot-9 reserve forward appeared in 37 games for the Eastern Conference finalists.
It wasn't until Ayres' daughter was born in June that he began to contemplate that old, Shakespearian question: What's in a name?
Ayres saw no need for Naomi to carry a name he felt no connection to himself. He didn't want her to grow up with questions about the Pendergraphs.
Not wanting to switch back to Orcutt, the soon-to-be-former Jeff Pendergraph and his wife contemplated starting from scratch with a completely new moniker.
They joked about legally dubbing themselves “Mr. and Mrs. Awesome.”
“Then I thought, I bet my dad would love it if I took his name,” Ayres said. “As a son, that's kind of the idea. You're supposed to take your dad's name.”
Ayres admits the transition hasn't been seamless. He has discovered, for example, that it takes more than just a phone call to change a name on a driver license, Social Security card or bank account.
Meanwhile, his impressive collection of surname-specific nicknames — “Pendy,” “Pendersmash,” “Pendamonium” — are now useless.
On the bright side: Signing autographs should require less of his time from now on.
“It's so much shorter,” Ayres said. “Just five letters.”
Ayres' best moment since his name change, the moment that made the switch seem at last tangible, came last week at the Spurs' practice facility, when he walked into the team dressing room for the first time.
There, stenciled above a new locker in a new town, was his new name.
“That was pretty cool,” Ayres said. “I took a picture and sent it to my dad.”
Jeff and James Ayres have a relationship now. They are bonded by a last name, related both legally and biologically.
They exchange text messages weekly. And last month, when the player still known as Pendergraph arrived at that Phoenix courthouse to rename himself, James Ayres drove from California to accompany him.
So, what's in a name? A new Spurs forward named Jeff Ayres thinks he knows.
“It's nothing personal,” he said. “It's just family.”