“Look, we have to step away from this.”
Gordon Hayward had just made his decision to sign with the Boston Celtics, according to ESPN’s Chris Haynes. But Hayward himself was confused, bewildered and just down right upset, since he was on the phone with his agent Mark Bartelstein at that exact moment, still deliberating on where sign.
There are two distinct sides to this story. The one from the Haynes’ point of view, a reputable reporter in the midst of an offseason in which he had accurately reported multiple big moves. Although his report turned out to be correct in the end, like any good reporter, Haynes has quietly stood by his report with a simple Hulk Hogan meme.
On the other side is Hayward’s explanation, which he delivered in his first media address since the signing. CelticsBlog asked Hayward on the call to walk through that fateful fourth of July, where he was reported to be a Celtics early in the afternoon, and made it official by nightfall.
“That was definitely a hectic day. My mind was in all kinds of different places that day. It is definitely fair to say that I was leaning towards Boston, but at the same time, we hadn’t figured it out [when the report came out]. I was going back and forth with Mark and we were really discussing throughout the day different reasons why or why not I should go to a different place.”
After the news went viral and multiple reporters, this author included, were told by league sources that it was real, Bartelstein got on the phone. He informed ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and a slew of other reporters, on the record, that the decision was in fact not finalized.
“I was literally on the phone with Mark when the story broke online and I’m getting stuff to my phone and I’m getting blown up saying I decided to become a Boston Celtic. Everybody knows it was all over the internet. At that point in time, we decided we have to step away from this.”
During that period, the Celtics were nervous. Team sources told CelticsBlog that after Bartelstein issued the correction in the early afternoon, the tension reached new heights. Concerns that the report wasn’t true or that Hayward’s camp thought the leak came from the Celtics to force his hand caused a palpitating fear that things were going haywire. Even if it was true, what if this gave the Jazz an opportunity to get him to change his mind? The increased confusion only made things worse.
“I was pretty upset that that had happened. I didn’t feel like I was ready to say, ‘Yes I want to be a Boston Celtic.’ So, I had to take a step back and we regrouped and I think we talked about it more and more and then finally we put out the article.”
Hayward particularly addressed the mostly joking speculation that day that he had been using the time to jointly write the lengthy Players Tribune article that announced his decision to leave Utah for Boston. But Gordon said the time was spent bouncing around his decision and then quickly finishing off the piece just before posting.
“I know there were a lot of reports of people saying we were finishing up the article for the Tribune, which is completely false. I had a ghost writer that I was talking with throughout the course of my visits and I was sharing my thoughts the whole time. It was one of those things where once I finally made the decision, now it is like five minutes and we finished it up and we’re ready to go.”
Hayward’s former teammate Rudy Gobert expressed dismay that he found out about the news in the way everyone did, indirectly through a leak. Hayward was frustrated it went down that way as well, in an era where it’s rare you get to break your major news in the ideal way.
“It was definitely a crazy day. Kind of bummed how it happened, but this day in age that type of stuff goes on and there’s sometimes not much you can do about it.”
But there was plenty of fall out, beyond his former team being disappointed he was leaving. Jazz fans burned his jersey. Anonymous psychopaths flexed their twitter fingers with threats. Even though he tried to make a fair decision in a reasonable manner, including a lengthy thank you note to the Jazz and Utah, public figures rarely get that graceful exit anymore.
“The seven years I spent in Utah have been some of the best moments of my life. I’ve done a lot in those seven years,” Hayward said.
“I can definitely see where these fans are coming from. I think it is disappointing to see some of the threats and the violent responses, especially towards my family and things of that nature. But I completely can understand the disappointment for sure.”
At the end of the day, he felt an intrinsic connection that he couldn’t shake after meeting with the Celtics brass, led by his once former and now current coach Brad Stevens. After finishing his meetings over that fourth of July weekend and sleeping on it to, “try to take some of the emotion out of the decision,” Hayward kept coming back to that special feeling in Boston.
“I think after talking with Mark and my wife and thinking it over, there was just something different about Boston and different about being a Celtic.
“It was just a special feeling when talking about being a Boston Celtic, and that ultimately won me over and I decided to join the Boston Celtics.”
Now he gets to finish what he started with Stevens back at Butler, joining Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford as the established All-Stars on the Celtics roster. He had lunch with Al before having dinner with Isaiah and wife Kayla Thomas while in Boston, finding that he would be a perfect complementary fit with his new teammates. It’s exactly what Stevens and Ainge sold to Hayward, being a versatile playmaker that plays everywhere on both ends.
“Brad has talked a lot about that and using a lot of the guys that we have on the roster in different ways,” Hayward said. “He’s a genius when it comes to that stuff, both offensively and defensively. I couldn't be more excited with the guys that we have on the team. I’m ready to get to practice already and start learning and start competing with these guys.”
The season starts just three months and three days from Friday. There will be a lot of work to get the synergy flowing. But when it all comes together, Hayward just might have something truly special in Boston come June.