Gordon Hayward was still waiting for his “Welcome to Boston” moment. Sure, he had his fair share of introductions to the city during the past year. The first was on Jan. 3—long before he chose to suit up for the Celtics. His Utah Jazz were playing at TD Garden, where Boston fans started cheering for the free-agent-to-be. It was a moment that stuck with Hayward months later, when he chatted with The Improper for what was to be our cover story for this issue.
“I was definitely aware of it when we came here to play and the fans were cheering,” Hayward recalled. “It’s weird because you’re playing in an opposing arena and they’re cheering for you. I didn’t know I’d be playing next year for them.”
Hayward got plenty of warm welcomes when he toured Boston during his free-agency visit in July and again when he strolled through the North End after signing his $128 million contract. But the Celtics forward was primed to get his official “Welcome to Boston” on Oct. 18, when he would’ve been introduced in the Celtics starting lineup in front of the home crowd at the Garden. And he was slated to get a “Welcome to Boston” moment from The Improper as our cover boy, with an accompanying profile in this issue that touched on his move to the area. But in sports, the unexpected moment is right around the corner, and on Oct. 17, six minutes into the season-opening game in Cleveland, the 27-year-old landed awkwardly near the hoop, dislocating his ankle, snapping his leg and likely ending his season.
Hayward has been involved in plenty of unexpected moments in his career. Once it was a moment of ecstasy, like when the skinny, unheralded Midwestern kid teamed up with a young, upstart coach to take their college hoops team to within a half-court heave of an NCAA championship. And another time it was a feel-good moment, like when that same skinny, unheralded kid got better every year, turned into an NBA All-Star and teamed up with that same young, upstart coach, joining pro basketball’s most storied franchise. But this most recent moment was a heart-wrenching one that shocked a national TV audience.
For now, Hayward will have to wait for his true “Welcome to Boston” moment. And we’ll have to wait for our Hayward cover, as we changed plans in light of his injury—although the original design can be seen above. But when that welcoming moment eventually comes for Hayward after months of hard work and rehab, it’s sure to be even sweeter and the crowd’s cheers even louder. Get well, Gordon.
Hayward Soul: Gordon Hayward, photographed for The Improper by John Huet; groomer: Kashmir of Viselli Salon