Villains aren’t one sided.
He’s never going to wear the black hat. He’s not going to embrace the jeers and use it to fuel his performance. Gordon Hayward is never the villain. Friday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena, nearly all of the 18,300 made him the target in the Utah Jazz’s 123-115 win against the Boston Celtics.
During warmups, a man in section one yelled “Gordon who?” Moments later, Drake’s “Energy” blasted in the arena. Yes, in Utah he’s got a lot of enemies, even if he didn’t expect it.
Joe Ingles shared pleasantries during the aforementioned warm-ups. The same man bellowed, “Don’t do it Joe!” He did it.
During the Jazz’s introductory video, he shook hands with owner Gail Miller. Things have changed in the eighteen months since his departure.
The Jazz are the darlings of the Western Conference – the hipster pick in the non-Warriors/Rockets division. Donovan Mitchell filled the superstar void. Rudy Gobert won Defensive Player of the Year.
Hayward is a piece on a team in contention for the Eastern Conference crown. His minute restriction stayed intact, narratives be damned. Kyrie Irving was out attending his grandfather’s memorial service. This wasn’t going to be White LeBron’s (h/t Desus & Mero) return where fights broke out in the arena. No. While tense, this crowd’s catharsis came in its boos, jerseys, and one-on-one matchups catching Hayward on the receiving end.
Jazz have repeatedly targeted Gordon Hayward on defense, forcing him to fight through screens. It’s worked.
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) November 10, 2018
This Celtics team is still trying to find ways to integrate the former Jazz star. Jaylen Brown spotted Hayward for his opening basket on the break two minutes in. Boos rained continuously. He scored 13 points in his return on 3-9 shooting. His highlights came on seven assists.
In the lead up, he told ESPN that he wanted it to be like just another game, but eighteen months isn’t long enough to heal the wounds. His Fourth of July “Indecision” made his return must-see tv, no matter what he said (or didn’t).
Just heard from Boston… despite NBA media regulations to the contrary, Gordon Hayward will not be available to the media before the game tonight.
— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) November 9, 2018
Utah felt like the mistress, but in reality, the state offered Gordon Hayward time to grow. In his much derided The Players’ Tribune letter, he wrote about how he went from a kid to a man. His hair tells the story. The finest years of his career were spent at 301 South Temple. He was beloved, and to some, he still is.
Not everyone hates Gordon Hayward in Utah. ☘️ pic.twitter.com/uVtBlZKmyn
— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) November 10, 2018
Hayward didn’t win any supporters Friday, but he didn’t accept his role as the Jazz’s villain.