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SALT LAKE CITY – When Gordon Hayward walked up to the free throw line early in the fourth quarter, the Vivin Arena crowd was expected to boo him.
Of course they did.
This was once the most hated man in the state (well, at least among the hipster part of him). He broke hearts across Utah and ruined Fourth of July barbecues—and then, to make matters worse, seemed to be what the Jazz were missing during the next championship window.
Monday’s free-throw attempt, however, was the only time this amount of vitriol was shown Utah defeated the Hayward Hornets.
Jazz has long since moved on from Hayward. It’s been nearly six years since the infamous summer when the local All-Star snubbed Utah and headed to Boston. The Jazz have a new owner, a new coach, and an entirely new team.
Maybe time has healed the wounds, or maybe it’s just apathy at this point, but jazz fans seem to be starting to move on fully as well.
And yes, Hayward noticed.
“It’s always good to be back,” said Hayward. “I still see a lot of familiar faces, and I still have some good relationships here in Utah. And so it’s fun; it’s fun to come back here and play. And tonight, there definitely seemed to be less boos than there were years ago, so that’s nice.”
When asked if he was surprised the boos were still ringing, he said he did understand.
He said, “It’s kind of what it is. Honestly, I get it.” “Like I said, tonight, there was a little bit, though, and that’s a good thing.”
So does a little shrug mean forgiveness? Could. Maybe not.
The first time Hayward returned to Utah—more than a year after he left the Jazz—he lit up with sarcasm every time he even thought about getting close to the ball. On Monday, there were some choruses of scorn here and there, but the fans, for the most part, treated him like any other opponent that comes to Vivint Arena.
This reaction might be very different if Hayward had blossomed after his departure or was currently on a team that wasn’t at its lowest ebb. But as it stands, his career has been torpedoed by injuries (both big and small), and he never came close to reaching the same peak level of play he saw during his Jazz days.
In his senior year with Utah, he was one of the best tackles in the game. Now, he’s on what might be the most forgotten team in the NBA. It’s hard for fans to feel like a jilted ex-lover when Hayward couldn’t find a better match.
In some ways, it’s reminiscent of what Deron Williams went through – at least the beginning of it. Cast as a villain for his role in Jerry Sloan’s retirement, Williams was treated as such for years. He also hasn’t seen the same kind of success he did in Salt Lake City, so when he said he hinted that he regretted how things turned out at Utah, he was welcomed back into the fold.
Earlier this month, Williams was honored as one of the former Jazz All-Stars with a standing ovation.
Could this be in Hayward’s future? Could.
Regardless, he still appreciates the past.
“I was a kid when I first came here,” he said. “We’ve had two kids while I’ve been here. My wife actually sent me a video of last year playing here about our daughter’s age. She was about a year and a half old. It was so sweet to see her. It’s crazy how time passes. Nothing but Great memories here, and I had a good run while I was here.”