Had he made a different decision in July, Gordon Hayward could have easily been preparing to start his season Wednesday night as a member of the Miami Heat.
Instead, athletes past and present have been sending the All-Star swingman well wishes and prayers in the aftermath of his horrific lower left leg injury six minutes into his Boston Celtics debut Tuesday night in Cleveland.
The Heat, which made a hard push to sign Hayward this summer before circling back and investing the money in James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk, has done the same with coach Erik Spoelstra reaching out to Hayward’s agent and Heat players sending out supportive tweets and promising to reach out to Hayward directly in the days ahead.
“I prayed for him,” said James Johnson, who shares the same agent as Hayward.
“It was horrible to watch,” Spoelstra said. “I was watching it with the staff, and all of us were immediately silent. And that’s the thing about this league, it really is a fraternity. The little bit I got to know him this summer, you just know how much time he puts into this game and how important it is to him. I’m going to reach out to Gordon today, after the dust settles a little bit, just to let him know that we're all hoping for a quick recovery and we’re all thinking about him.”
Hayward, 27, fractured his left ankle and left tibia after bumping in the air with LeBron James and landing awkwardly on his left leg and ankle.
“It’s just an unfortunate thing that happened,” Johnson said. “It’s just a normal play that I’m sure he completed in practice a million times. That’s probably not his first time coming down rough like that in his career. It just happened to be that time.”
Johnson was among a group of Heat players who tried to sway Hayward to Miami this summer when the team rolled out the red carpet at AmericanAirlines Arena at the start of free agency in July. Hayward ultimately chose to play for the Celtics and former college coach Brad Stevens, signing a four-year, $128 million deal.
Hayward’s injury figures to have a significant effect both on the Celtics and the Eastern Conference playoff outlook as a whole.
“I think we all felt the same as every athlete around the world,” Johnson said. “It’s always a competition. It’s always war out there regardless of your agency, team or trying to recruit them and they didn’t come. At the end of the day, it’s a big family. Of course we feel for him and I definitely feel for his family.”
Said point guard Goran Dragic: “We’re all competitors and want to have good games against each other, but when it comes to this, it’s tough to watch. We play this sport because we love basketball. Even if it was a guy I don’t like, I would never imagine something like that happening to him. It’s tough. I wish him a quick recovery. It didn’t look good.”
Spoelstra said Okaro White’s strained left shoulder is progressing, but the second-year forward would not be available for Wednesday night’s opener. White did conditioning drills and participated in pregame shootaround Wednesday, but still has to go through a full contact practice before being cleared.
“Obviously I’m not going to play tonight, but just going through shootaround today I felt really good,” White said. “I’ve got good motion in it right now. But as far as being physical in the game, setting screens and fighting through screens, I’m not there yet for sure.”