BOSTON (CBS) — Just two weeks after suffering a devastating injury five minutes into his Celtics career, Gordon Hayward was in good spirits Thursday morning as he address the Boston media for the first time since that difficult night in Cleveland.
The injured Celtics star was all smiles as he opened up about his fractured tibia and dislocated ankle, confident that he’ll be back better than ever. The big question on everyone’s mind is when he’ll be back, and Hayward made it sound like that will not happen this season in a blog post he wrote on Wednesday evening.
But for now, a return is not Hayward’s focus. He’s got his sights set on his rehab, and how he can be better than he was before when he does eventually return.
“I’m putting zero expectations on myself as far as a timetable,” he said. “After this I’ll do some rehab and chair shooting, that’s what I’m focused on.”
Hayward ditched his hard cast for a boot earlier this week and took some shots from a chair on Wednesday. Sure, it’s not the same as taking a potential game-winner for his new team, but it’s a start. At the moment, a starting line on the road to recovery is all he can really ask for.
“I feel pretty short,” he joked. “But just being on the court and to have a basketball, having an assistant rebound for me, that was an incredible feeling to start that process. For two weeks I was in a bed with my foot up for the longest time. Those hours felt like they lasted forever. I was bored and couldn’t do much. To be on the court with a basketball, it’s what I loved to do and that was fun. I look forward to continuing to do that.”
His jovial mood on Thursday is not unexpected. Hayward has received thousands of well-wishes from fans and fellow athletes since he fell to the floor at Quicken Loans Arena on October 17. Paul George, who suffered the same injury back in 2014 (in front of Hayward, nonetheless) sent him a text right after the injury happened and has been in communication with Hayward about the process ahead. And even though they haven’t been able to see much of each other, Hayward’s new teammates, most of whom he’d only been with for a few weeks prior to the injury, have given him an incredible amount of support.
Then there’s head coach Brad Stevens, who made sure he was one of the people to carry Hayward onto the team plane after the C’s opening night loss.
“There were probably 20 people there but he was one who made sure to carry me up. That’s the type of person he is,” Hayward said. “We went out to eat this morning. He’s one of the biggest reasons I came here. As good as a basketball coach he is, he’s a great person. He wants to include me still and make sure I’m part of this team. He’s going to have different things for me to do and different ways I can help.”
Hayward said he has watched a replay of the injury, and has a lasting image of what he saw when he first rolled over after the failed alley-oop attempt. But he’s moved on, and since he won’t be making an impact on the court, he’s determined to help as much as he can off of it. He’ll be studying film and passing along pointers to his teammates, which he said would be a big part of the mental aspect of his recovery.
While everyone is singing the praises of Celtics young stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and rightfully so, Hayward will be there to let them know what they can do better.
“I had a chance to talk to them yesterday for a bit. I definitely made sure to praise them, but got after them for some things I saw they need to do better,” he said. “They’re playing well and are being asked to do a lot for being 20, 21 year olds. They have a lot of responsibly, but it it’ll be great for their careers.”
Though he can’t be on the court with the first-place Celtics, the injury is giving Hayward a lot more time at home to spend with his wife and two young daughters. To them, the injury just means more daddy time when they normally wouldn’t have a chance to see him.
“My two little ones don’t really know what’s going on. They know I’m home a little more and daddy has a boo boo. It does put things in perspective, because to them it’s not that big of a deal,” he said. “I have a scooter at home, so it’s another toy for them to play with, and another thing for them to get hurt on.
“They provide some comic relief, and it will help me get through the days,” he added.
Hayward still cannot put weight on his leg, which means he can’t be with his team for games. While that’s one of the more difficult parts of the injury, Hayward said as soon as he gets the OK to be on the bench, he’ll be there.