By James Holas
Five minutes and 15 seconds. That’s how long it took for basketball to no longer matter. Almost halfway through the first quarter of the season opening Boston Celtics-Cleveland Cavaliers tilt, Boston’s shiny new star Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome broken leg and, just like that, no one cared about the game.
There are dozens of platitudes about the unfairness of life and the inevitability of injuries, but after watching a 27-year-old All-Star in his prime crumple to the floor after an innocuous muffed play—his face a rictus mask of exquisite pain—and seeing the shock and disbelief on the face of both his teammates and opponents, those trite sayings ring hollow.
No one cared about basketball, and every single one of us, players and fans and coaches and refs, would have given anything to rewind 20 seconds into the past and save Hayward. This wasn’t fair. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
I was going to write about how the Celtics were visibly rattled but regrouped at halftime, or how Danny Ainge’s months long Machiavellian revamp of his roster was undone in one gut wrenching play gone wrong, or about how, in moments like this, the immediate reactions, from Wade immediately dropping to the ground and praying to Marcus Smart’s fierce embrace of Kyrie Irving as the Celtics encircled one another, made the players all of us, but those are just words.
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I was going to wax about Hayward reuniting with his college coach, and now they must get through this together, or how devastating his injury is for a Celtics team vying to challenge Golden State, but that’s not right either. Nothing about basketball carries any weight. LeBron James and Isaiah Thomas went back to the locker room to check on Gordon during the game.
The Paul George parallel is too obvious to ignore. George suffered a similar injury in the summer of 2014, and his tough road to recovery had him back on the court less than a year later, and George was back in All-Star form by the 2015-2016 season.
Can Hayward bounce back with the same success? One can only hope. With his surgery already scheduled for Wednesday, the NBA community at large awaits news.
“You hurt for him. He’s put in a lot of great work. And I thought he had his most comfortable week as far as feeling like he was going to play really well. But now we’ll hopefully get a full recovery, right? And so it’s a tough deal, but I guess that’s part of it, the risk of injury. I really feel for him.”
~Celtics coach Brad Stevens (read the full post from ESPN’s Chris Forsberg here).
The Celtics made a game of it late, only to lose 102-99, but it doesn’t matter. Reports of LeBron visiting Hayward in the locker room during a break in action matter more than James’ 29 point, 16 rebound, 9 assist effort.
Eventually we’ll care about Eastern conference seedings and Brad Stevens rotations with his all-star down, but not now.
The NBA season kicked off yesterday, and within minutes, we were reminded that life is bigger than basketball. We’ll care about matchups and momentum and spacing again soon.
But not now.
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