The NBA can be a cruel world sometimes, specifically for its fans. When Gordon Hayward opted to leave the Utah Jazz in free agency to sign with the Boston Celtics, there was plenty of frustration and anger. After all, this was a player expected to lead Utah to the promised land and continue their push towards an NBA title.
But the idea of joining the Celtics and playing with his former college coach in Brad Stevens was too much for Hayward to turn down. So, he chose to sign a max contract with Boston and after missing his first year due to a gruesome leg injury, he’s back for the 2018-19 season. Hayward may face his toughest personal matchup of the season on Friday, though, when the Celtics travel to Utah for a game against his former team.
With the nationally televised matchup set, there’s been quite a bit of buildup around it to this point. Let’s break down what Hayward has said about facing his former team recently.
Gordon Hayward Tweets Message to Jazz Fans Ahead of Game
The message was a straightforward one from Hayward ahead of his return to Utah. But it had plenty of meaning and emotion behind it. Most importantly, the Celtics forward wanted to take a moment to thank Jazz fans who supported him through his injury.
Hayward will likely receive a mixture of applause and boos in this game, which is understandable. After all, the fanbase adored their former player and although rumors swirled, hope remained high at the time that he’d remain in town.
Hayward Has Nothing but Respect for Jazz Fans
It won’t be easy to win the appreciation of some Jazz fans back after his departure. And although there’s been a whole year to cope with this, something Hayward mentioned, all those feelings for fans will likely return Friday. But as he told ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, he has nothing but respect for the organization.
Hayward also made it known that he hasn’t thought too much about the fact that both the Jazz and Celtics had success without him last season, per ESPN.
“It’s just circumstances that happened,” Hayward said. “With me dealing with everything I had to deal with, and they’ve had a year to move on … they had a great year last year.
“I’ve got nothing but respect for the people who are on the Jazz, and what they did for me. But it’s not something that I’ve been thinking about.”
While the 28-year-old has yet to return to his old form this season, averaging just 9.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game over 25 minutes, the team’s focus is on getting him back to that point. It may take some time for Hayward to return to the player who averaged 21.9 points in his final season with the Jazz, but part of it is surely a mental game.
Hayward Wishes It Was Like Any Game & Knew Fans Would Be Upset
In the simplest of ways, Hayward summed up his thoughts on facing the Jazz and returning to his old stomping grounds. As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski revealed, he just wishes this were another game on the regular-season schedule.
“I wish it was just treated like another game,” Hayward told ESPN.
Of course, that was never going to be the case. Whether it happened last season or this one, when the Celtics and Jazz squared off in Utah, all eyes would be locked on the game. The fans haven’t had the opportunity to vent their feelings during a game, but as Hayward told Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe, he knew they’d be upset.
Although, he wasn’t exactly a fan of people throwing things that are on fire (like his jersey) at his house in Utah.
“I kind of knew they were going to be upset,” Hayward said Thursday before the Celtics defeated the Suns, 116-109, in overtime. “None of it bothered me, except for the people that threw some stuff on fire at our house. That’s not acceptable. But other than that, people have a right to be mad.”
Friday night’s game will be one of the most talked about to this point in the season. The tip is set for 9:30 p.m. EST and the game will be aired on ESPN.