BOSTON (CBS) — Gordon Hayward will make his long-awaited return to Utah on Friday night, as the Celtics continue their five-game road trip against the Jazz.
Hayward obviously missed Boston’s visit to Utah last year after suffering a season-ending ankle injury on opening night. That robbed his former fans of their chance to let him know how they felt about him leaving for Boston, though that anger likely hasn’t subsided too much over the last year.
“It’s been a year so hopefully not as vicious a booing,” Hayward said of his Utah return last week. “But I’m sure I’ll get booed. It is what it is.”
Hayward was the face of Utah basketball for seven years, so Jazz fans did not handle the departure of their star player very well. As fans typically do these days, a handful decided it was best to set their Hayward jersey ablaze. On Friday night, they’ll likely have a few clever chants mixed in to their chorus of jeers.
Celtics guard Kyrie Irving has some advice for his teammate: Whatever his old fans do, none of it matters.
“Just try not to get too caught up into what the outside is going on,” Irving told reporters Thursday night in Phoenix, via Mass Live’s Tom Westerholm. “It really doesn’t matter. It really does not matter — like, at all. I know the love and support that he’s garnered there. Gordon’s a great person. Don’t allow competition in basketball to be influenced by what everybody else’s opinion and criticism and all that other stuff of what it should be like in an environment for him. If they boo him great. If they don’t great. It doesn’t matter at all. It’s just basketball, like, you know what I mean? If anything, he gave (seven years) of his career trying to be the best he could in Utah, and I give him credit for that. And he made a decision in his career, and in his life, for his family, to be better. I’ll leave it at that.”
Irving has experience hearing it from his former fans, and he didn’t have to wait long either. His first game in a Celtics uniform was in Cleveland, and Cavaliers fans were not happy with the former No. 1 overall pick after he forced his way out of LeBron James’ shadow. Irving was given a healthy serving of boos whenever he touched the ball. The only cheers he heard came when he missed a potential game-tying three as the final buzzer sounded.
Irving won’t be around to hear Utah fans greet Hayward on Friday night, as he’ll miss the contest to attend his grandfather’s memorial. That will put an even bigger spotlight on Hayward, who as expected, is still knocking off rust after missing nearly all of last season. In 10 games this season, Hayward is averaging just 9.9 points off 40 percent shooting from the floor in 25 minutes per game.
But Friday will not only mark his return to Utah, but Hayward’s first back-to-back of the season. Both are big steps in his return.