Gordon Hayward’s season ended five minutes into his Celtics debut, when his ankle got caught under him on an alley-oop attempt against the Cavaliers on opening night.
Hayward dislocated his ankle and fractured his leg in what was one of the most horrifying basketball injuries in history, as the image of his foot turned the wrong way is seared into the minds of everyone at the arena and watching on television. Hayward was flown back to Boston and had surgery to repair his ankle shortly after, and since has been waiting to begin the long and slow rehab process.
Everyone watching that night remembers the sequence and the aftermath, but to this point we hadn’t heard from the man himself what the experience was like. In fairness to Hayward, it’s a moment he’d probably rather not think back on, even though he’s undoubtedly gone over the incident again and again.
On Wednesday night, Hayward posted a lengthy essay to Facebook about the injury and the aftermath. His account of the injury and the play that led to it are fascinating, as he went into great detail exactly what went through his mind as he came down on the ground and the delay between the injury and when the pain hit him.
Immediately, I knew something was off, but when I landed, it wasn’t a huge amount of pain. I rolled over and saw my foot, and it was pointed in completely the wrong direction. My first thought was, “Oh. This isn’t good. There’s something very wrong here.” I felt a sense of panic come over me and signaled to the ref, “Hey, look at this. You’ve got to stop the game.” And still, it didn’t seem like it was hurting that much.
Then all of a sudden, it came.
It was like once my brain figured out what had happened, I was hit with shots of pain. The training staff came running over to me super fast, but however long it was—three seconds, five seconds—I just remember sitting there, looking at my foot the wrong way, and it felt like an eternity. Dr. Rosneck, the Cavaliers doctor, braced me as he explained that they wanted to try and pop my ankle back into place. I held on, and the moment they did it, there was just a massive shot of pain, probably the most pain I’ve ever felt in my life.
Hayward’s account of looking down and seeing what everyone else did, his foot sticking out the wrong way, is horrifying. As for what he remembers after being loaded onto the stretcher, it’s all a blur, but he distinctly remembers the thoughts going through his brain.
I remember LeBron coming over. I know I talked to Kyrie and a bunch of my teammates and coaches. All of them were wishing me well and praying for me, I think. Everything was a blur. It was when the trainers were carting me off that I was just hit with this wave of emotion. All I could think was that it’s all over. I did all this work. I moved to a new team. And now this happens.
What is this going to do to me? Am I going to be able to come back? To play again? Am I done? Is my career over?
What do I do now?
…My thoughts started to go to a very dark place.In my mind, I kept seeing my ankle bent the wrong way. There was no way it was going to be okay.And even if it was going to be okay, it was going to be a while before it was going to be okay.
It’s a natural reaction to think of the worst in a situation like that, and they were thoughts so many had. It was as severe looking an injury as any you’ll see, but luckily the reality of the injury, while still terrible, wasn’t as horrific as it looked. Hayward is expected to make a full recovery, but will almost assuredly miss this season as he works his way back.
As difficult as the physical rehab will be, what may be harder is getting himself mentally ready to return to the floor and play the same way he did before the injury. The next time he goes up for an alley-oop in traffic, those same thoughts are sure to creep back into his head, but hopefully he can make that full recovery mentally and physically to be the star player he has been for years.