Originally published in Utah Business.
With a new arena and an energized fan base, the Utah Jazz are game on. The regular season has started and the Jazz are once again the talk of the town. It looks to be a fun year with a team full of international players and one of the best centers in the league. While the Jazz won’t vie for an NBA championship this year, they will, as always, stand tall with high-character players, an uber-talented coach and general manager, and the most community-minded owner in the league.
Which brings me to wonder … what was Gordon Hayward thinking?
It’s been about four months since Hayward shot off his Fourth of July dud. I’ve been “taking note” ever since. We’ve moved on, but the opening of the NBA regular season gives us a chance to reflect upon his departure. What did we learn?
Here are a few of my thoughts:
First, I join many others in this community in sharing my respect and affection for the Haywards even though I only know them as a fan and fellow Utahn. The choice to leave was completely Gordon’s decision to make. I respect that. He worked hard, earned his market value and made his choice. By all accounts, Gordon is a fine person with a beautiful family. Like many in this community, I wish him and his family well and every future success. Utah will always hold a special place for you.
Second, we learned in a hurtful way that departures matter. It still hurts the Jazz fan base that Gordon departed in such a flawed and offensive way. He tarnished what otherwise was a positive career with the Utah Jazz. There is no easy recovery.
And, let’s be clear, Gordon owns his disappointing and ungrateful departure, not the Jazz. From the full-page newspaper ads to the public statements to the off-season acquisitions, the Jazz acted with integrity and class.
There is a two-part lesson here: 1) when you leave something, do it with dignity, and 2) when someone leaves and disappoints you, be completely productive.
Gordon got it wrong; the Jazz got it right.
Third, and I think this is the most important lesson, there is a difference between fleeting and enduring. I’m biased here. If you are a Celtics’ fan, stop reading now.
Gordon did a full-court pass on the opportunity to be a part of something incredibly special and lasting in life—the connection and affection that comes from true community.
The Jazz offered Gordon this community’s best. We offered him the chance to plant his roots solidly in this beautiful place and distinguish himself as a different kind of player … the type of player who gives back to the franchise that has given him and his family so much. Well past his playing days, this connection and sense of community would have been a powerful source of satisfaction.
Instead, he chose to be like so many other NBA players—go for the big lights, the limelight and greener fields (literally).
Loyalty and the NBA are non-sequitur. Players have much more loyalty to their own ambition and paycheck than they do to the fan base that supports them. Rare is the super athlete who extols the fans and gives glory to others.
What is the lesson here? I think it’s a lesson of gratitude and taking the long view. Are you sufficiently grateful? Are you thinking too much about the present and not enough about the future?
So what’s next?
One thing we know for sure … NBA basketball thrives here. The new arena is awesome. It will be teeming with life all season. Gordon’s departure doesn’t dampen our affection for our team; it deepens it. We will all cheer a little louder.
On March 28, 2018, Gordon Hayward will return to Utah and play against the Jazz wearing Celtics’ green. My guess is he will be booed, which is unfortunate. I think he regrets the way he left and even, from time to time, wonders if he made the right choice.
I purchased tickets to the game and will choose to be silent when Gordon is announced or touches the ball, not as a form of detachment, but as an expression of what could have been.
Gordon had the chance to finish what he started … to show other NBA players what loyalty and class look like. By staying he would have honored fellow players, a coach, a general manager, an owner and a fan base richly deserving of his affection. He would have vied for an NBA championship in the West, where the best basketball in the world is played.
Our silence will remind him and us, that in life, as in sports, true championships are not won by chasing after the ring, but by how you conduct yourself every day.