Previously published in The Daily Star of Hammond, LA before Hayward’s decision to go to the Celtics.
Gordon Hayward is my favorite basketball player on the planet and the Utah Jazz are my favorite team in my favorite league of any sport at any level.
I have a problem though. I chose to be a Utah Jazz fan as soon as Hayward was drafted and have stuck with them and him ever since that day. Since then, I’ve transformed from a casual NBA fan in high school to a hardcore, nerdy NBA fan and a sports reporter.
I don’t know what I’ll do though if Gordon leaves Utah in free agency this summer and goes somewhere else. Should I stay a Jazz fan since they’ve been my team or follow Hayward blindly wherever he goes? To explain why this is such a predicament, cozy up to the fireplace and let me tell you my love story with Gordon.
I’ve liked him since he was a freshman at Butler University, a year before he led the team to the national championship game and produced the biggest “what-if?” scenario in college basketball when he missed a half-court shot by an inch that would have toppled Duke.
I liked him because he was my favorite player on my favorite college team. I liked Butler after watching them valiantly play a gargantuan Florida team with three future NBA players on their way to a second consecutive championship. Butler lost by just eight points and I developed a hatred for the Gators and a love for the Bulldogs.
When Hayward showed up, I was smitten by the “baby-faced assassin’s” ability to do everything for his team. He could shoot from behind the arc, handle the ball, rebound with tenacity (he lead his conference in rebounds his sophomore year) and play defense on almost every player in college thanks to his size and speed.
He was everything I wanted to be on the court those two seasons. I remember playing church-league basketball that season for a team lacking any true big men, so I played at the four-position like Hayward despite being just a five-foot-nine-inch, 115-pound kid that went up against players five inches taller and at least 60 pounds heavier. Despite my skinny frame, I also led my team in rebounds and played relentless defense thanks to my endurance from the cross country season allowing me to run opponents to death and never tire out.
When the Utah Jazz drafted him in 2010 I became a Jazz fan when I realized I had no affinity for any other NBA teams and wanted to have a team. Every year I played fantasy basketball I’d pick Hayward two or three rounds earlier than he was supposed to go just to make sure I had him on my team.
My admiration went beyond basketball as Hayward struggled to play consistent basketball and with facial hair and a normal, adult hairdo. At that time I was struggling with figuring out what I wanted to do with my life and what major I should study in college, and also struggled with the adult hairdo and facial hair problems.
People made fun of me when I told them I thought he was going to be an All-Star one day because I knew he was a relentless worker and had the skills to be an all-around force if he picked up a bit more weight and got stronger.
Last season, he proved me right when he made his first All-Star team and became the best player on a top-five team in the Western Conference. Everyone realized how good he was during a stellar regular season and a playoff series against the LA Clippers that saw him score 40 points in game three and make 43 of 45 free throws in the series. He killed the Lob City/Dunk City Clippers and brought Utah the furthest into the playoffs they’d been in seven years. His facial hair and hairdo were flawless too (Seriously, his hair always stays perfectly in place no matter how hard he plays, gets hit or sweats. Does he use cement to keep it so rigid?).
Meanwhile, I figured out I wanted to be a sports writer and got a job as a sports reporter right out of college. This is the part of the romantic-comedy where everything between the two protagonists is going well which obviously means something terrible is about to happen.
And the conflict in our story has finally occurred. Hayward’s fantastic season and ability to opt out of his contract meant every team in the NBA wanted him and my hidden gem was consistently a headline on Sports Center asking the same question: “Where will he go?” If this were a romantic-comedy set in the 1800s this would be like Gordon leaving to go find his fortune on the frontier and I’m sitting at the edge of the Mississippi River deciding if I’m going to swim to his boat or let him float away.
This has led me to my conundrum. I legitimately like the Jazz, but I’m not sure if that remains true if they don’t have Hayward on the team. I like Rudy Gobert and the new acquisition Rick Rubio a lot, but all of them pale in comparison to Hayward.
Some people want it all, but I don’t want nothing at all — not if I can’t have Gordon on the Jazz. The saying goes “if you love someone, you’ll let them go,” but I refuse to let that thinking find its way into this problem.
I’m an intense fan and while I understand there is more depth in players’ and teams’ decisions, I usually make snap-judgments of different sports entities because it is more fun to really like and truly despise something than to wade in the middle. I started hating on Golden State during their first title run three years ago because I thought they were all “goons.” Even now, they are my least favorite team even though they play the most exciting brand of basketball. I actually blame them for Gordon potentially leaving Utah because they swept the Jazz out of the second round of the postseason this year. If they hadn’t, he might have stayed no matter what so he could run it back and try to make a finals run (I realize that’s not necessarily true in my head, but you will never convince my heart of anything else).
Fans everywhere are having this problem in the NBA now that the players have the power to leave and play with whichever team they want. It is a great thing for professional athletes and I don’t want that to change because it adds some zest to the league, but I realize now I subconsciously hoped this would never happen with Hayward.
Even the Pelicans fans may have to deal with this problem if Anthony Davis decides to leave in a few years.
With fantasy sports, more fans root for players over teams than ever before, but that’s always been less fun to me. It costs that fan some of the joy of winning a championship if they just started liking the team the year before because they had the quarterback on their fantasy team.
After months of deflecting the issue that friends kept bringing up about Hayward potentially leaving the Jazz, I was finally forced to reflect on my fandom and allegiance to Utah. The numerous meditations forced me to contend with the truth after much trembling. It was finally revealed to me when I saw a seagull fly across part of a swamp towards its friends (I thought it was a pelican. I don’t know a lot about birds.).
Now, I am in a post-team state of fandom. I am a self-actualized fan and do not care about any team that does not have Gordon Hayward on it because I chose the Jazz solely to cheer for him. I have plunged into the Mississippi and won’t stop fighting the current until I am back with Gordon.
But, if Hayward surprises everyone and goes to the Warriors I am so out.