WALTHAM, Mass. – Gordon Hayward crutched his way over to a podium Thursday morning and sat down behind a microphone to face the Boston media for the first time since suffering a gruesome left leg injury Opening Night in Cleveland.
The All-Star wing smiled as he looked out at the throng of reporters and camera operators who had gathered on the Celtics’ practice court to hear him speak. He explained that he was simply glad to be out of his house, moving around and seeing familiar faces again.
“I’m definitely a little more mobile than I was two weeks ago,” said Hayward, who on Wednesday transitioned from wearing a hard cast to a boot. “I’m on the road to recovery and excited to attack that.”
It’s now been 16 days since Hayward dislocated his left ankle and fractured his left tibia, after landing awkwardly five minutes into Boston’s season-opener while trying to finish off an alley-oop pass from Kyrie Irving.
He’s still processing the traumatic, potentially season-ending injury, but he’s made great strides physically and mentally over the last two weeks, largely thanks to the outpour of support from friends, family and fans.
“Obviously I was devastated,” Hayward said as he recounted the injury. “I felt like I put in so much work to get ready for this season. I made a pretty tough decision to come here to Boston to play, and one that I definitely don’t regret by any means. But I definitely wanted it to go differently for my first game as a Celtic. I was just devastated that I wouldn’t be able to contribute, that I wouldn’t be able to have the season I wanted to have.
“And then after that it kind of settled. I was just overwhelmed with the amount of support that was shown from all kinds of athletes across all kinds of sports.”
One of the first athletes that reached out to him was Paul George. Oklahoma City’s star wing broke his leg in a similar fashion during the summer of 2014 while practicing with the men’s national team. Hayward, who was also a member of the national team roster at the time, happened to be present for the injury.
“I was there in the gym when he [broke] his leg, and I know that he knows first-hand exactly what it’s going to take to get back to 100 percent,” said Hayward. “We’ve talked back and forth and I’m sure he’s somebody that I can lean on because the mental side is what he said is the toughest part; because you can’t just get out there and play. It doesn’t go as fast as you want it to go, so that’s something that’s going to be a challenge.”
Brad Stevens has also been a tremendous supporter for Hayward during this trying period. The Celtics’ coach was with Hayward throughout the entire process, and even helped carry him on the team airplane a few hours after the injury took place.
“There were probably 20 people there, but Brad wanted to make sure he was one of the ones that helped carry me up the [plane’s] stairs,” said Hayward. “That’s just the type of person that he is. He’s one of the big reasons why I came here. As good of a basketball coach as he is, he’s a great human being and a great person. And he wants to include me still; he wants to make sure that I’m still part of this team and still helping the team.”
Hayward has been keeping up with the team, and has already begun to help his younger teammates since they will now bear a heavier load due to his absence. He hopes to have a role on the bench throughout the season and take on a teaching role for some of the more inexperienced players on the team.
“I got a chance to talk to them yesterday for a little bit,” said Hayward. “I definitely made sure to praise them (for their strong play of late), but at the same time I got after them for some of the things that I saw that they needed to do better. They’re playing well right now, and they’re asked to do a lot at 20, and 21, and however young they are. They have a lot of responsibility, but I think this is going to be great for their careers.”
As far as Hayward’s future, he says he will not put a timetable on a potential return date. He’s confident that he will make a full recovery and return to 100 percent health, but he will take a day-by-day approach and not look too far ahead.
Part of that day-by-day approach has included shooting out of a chair, which, in a sense, has kept Hayward sane.
“Just to be out there on the court, and to have a basketball, and to have (assistant coach Scott (Morrison) rebound it for me… it’s an incredible feeling to kind of start that process, just because for two weeks I was in my bed with my foot up,” said Hayward. “Those hours seemed like they lasted forever because you’re just sitting there, you’re bored, and you can’t do much. So just to be out on the court and do whatever I can with the basketball, it’s what I love to do, so that’s fun and I’m looking forward to continuing doing that.”
Spending time with his wife, Robyn, and young daughters, Bernie and Charlie, has also provided a form of mental therapy for Hayward.
“My two little ones don’t really know what’s going on,” Hayward said with a chuckle. “They know that I’m home a little bit more. They know daddy has a boo-boo. It does kind of put things in perspective because for them it’s not that big of a deal. I have a scooter at home that’s another toy for them to play with and another thing that they can get hurt on, more than anything. But, I think they’re good for the recovery process because it allows me to have a support system and something to smile about. They for sure provide some comic relief and it will help me get through the days.”
Hayward still experiences negative thoughts, especially when watching his team play on television. It’s painful for him to look on knowing that he could be out there helping them win basketball games.
That only makes him human.
But he’s trying his best to keep his spirits high, knowing that he still has a bright future ahead of him in Boston.
“As far as my career, I’m going to try to turn this negative into a positive,” said Hayward. “I think there are things that, as a player, I need to get better at, and now I’m going to have all the time in the world to work on it. Part of that is a mental game. Part of that is film study. Part of that is working on left-handed finishes when I’m below the rim. There are all kinds of things that I can do to try to help myself as a player, and now I’m going to have the time to do it.”
Over the upcoming months, Hayward will continue to rehab, help his teammates from the sidelines, and improve his game to the best of his ability. That way when he does return, he will come back stronger than ever.