It’s been more than a full season since Gordon Hayward’s infamous departure from the state of Utah, and Jazz fans are preparing to see him again for the first time tonight as the Celtics come into town.
Hayward was something of a folk hero for the Jazz for the years that he played in Salt Lake City–think Donovan Mitchell, just a few years earlier. The franchise was resurrected during his time with the team, and they reached the playoffs for the first time in five years with him at the helm. So it makes sense that his leaving to play for the Boston Celtics was seen by diehard Jazz fans as an unforgivable betrayal that would send the team back into irrelevancy.
The Jazz bounced back the season directly after his departure, though, picking up now-household names Donovan Mitchell (the diehard Jazz fan’s new folk hero–unless he, too, leaves.) Ricky Rubio, and others. But much to some fans’ dismay, Hayward sustained a season-ending injury on the first night of 2017-2018, making it impossible to get revenge.
It’s that perfect storm of circumstances that make his return tonight so belated, and so loaded. Jerseys burned when he left, and tonight he’ll play at Vivint Smarthome Arena for the first time since Jazz fans still loved him.
Fans on Twitter are having mixed reactions–mostly negative–about Hayward’s return to Salt Lake City. Here’s the gist of it:
Fan Reactions to Gordon Hayward’s First Game Back in Salt Lake City
This fan’s desires are innocent enough:
But Rebecca Jones doesn’t want the Jazz to let Hayward have anything:
I can’t really tell if Porter is being sarcastic or not when he says tonight is going to be “fun”:
This fan, going against the grain, is hoping for Hayward to be the one to make a statement:
This guy is calling Jazz fans out on their hurt feelings:
And, oof, this fan is hoping for a few good ol’ Grayson Allen trips:
But overall, the reactions seem like they’ll be pretty split:
Just Another Game
ESPN reports that Hayward said, “I wish it was just treated like another game.”
And maybe it should be. The Utah Jazz are just fine without Gordon Hayward–the team is more successful and more loved than they’ve been in a generation, and it could be argued that that never would have happened without Hayward’s farewell.
It is what it is, though, and fans will be fans. Expect heavy boos from Jazz fans, with some scattered well-wishers doing their best to drown them out.
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey told ESPN, “Here’s the analogy: We’re both showing up to the prom with another date. We’re all doing well, but we’re standing around the punch bowl sort of awkwardly looking at each other.”