As Gordon Hayward lay on the floor directly in front of the Cleveland Cavaliers bench, it was silent. Opening Night of the 2017-18 NBA season, the first night of basketball following what many consider to be the best offseasons in many years, was stoic for several minutes as arena security and Celtics medical staff surrounded their recently signed forward.
By the time you read this, Hayward will have already spent several hours at Massachusetts General where he will undergo surgery on Wednesday. Hayward, by many accounts, should be able to eventually obtain a full recovery, but his season, one that included so much excitement and hope for championship contention, is over. While it could be argued that the Celtics had an uphill battle with Hayward when it comes to passing the Cavs as the best team in the Eastern Conference, this injury is a stark, sobering reminder that nothing is guaranteed over the course of an 82-game NBA regular season.
Charles Barkley recently said that he has to fake interest in the league over the next six months, “pretending” that it will not be the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals come mid-June. It is commensurately difficult to find a lazier take, especially from someone who played the game at a professional level. Every night in the NBA provides dozens of highlights, some of the best athletes in the world practicing their craft on the local or national stage. The relative closeness of the crowd to the floor makes the NBA an experience that is non-stop sensory. The speed of the game, however—the way 10 bodies that are all larger in stature than the average male run and jump and collide—is one that could change the landscape of the league in a moment’s notice.
The past is not a guarantee of the future. Certain players are labeled as “injury prone,” while others appear to be treated with some level of invincibility. That we can point to LeBron James taking a few weeks off to rest his back in 2014 as his injury moment is a reminder of how fortunate he has been throughout his career. Fewer (if any) players in professional sports take care of their bodies the way James does, but all the work in the world won’t keep another player’s foot from being under yours as your 270-pound frame descends back to the Earth. Until this season, Hayward had played at least 66 games in each of his seven years in the league, playing in 72 in all but one. This season, Hayward’s games played will be 1, with his minutes stuck at 5:15.
The Celtics will likely be OK. They still have Kyrie Irving and Al Horford and a pair of young players in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum who will allow them to compete at a high level within the East. But OK doesn’t win championships. It’s an exercise in futility, but how much different would the NBA Finals have been if Kevin Durant’s midseason leg injury was as severe as initially believed? How much different would past seasons have been if not for injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in Los Angeles, or—closer to home—Irving and Kevin Love in the spring of 2015?
Yes, if we’re too look at the odds and the construction of teams, the odds of a fourth-straight matchup between the Warriors and Cavs are higher than any other. But the odds of something unforeseen happening that could change this on whim are much higher. Eighty-two games is a lot. When you factor in that high-level players oftentimes play for 35-40 minutes per night, the chances of something unfortunate happening are wide-ranging. So guys like Barkley can pretend that the regular season means nothing, but if Tuesday night showed us anything, it’s that a random regular season game can also be the impetus for a sea change. Taking any of this for granted is nothing more than a disservice to fandom.
This Week in #ActualSportswriting:
- “The Girl in the No. 8 Jersey” by John Branch (NY Times)1
- “Hapless but Hopefull Missouri HS Football Team Presses on After 102-0 Loss” by Lars Anderson (Bleacher Report)
- “Roger Goodell Has a Secret Defender on Twitter: His Wife” by Andrew Beaton (Wall Street Journal)
- “Pro sports teams were once reliable patrons of Trump’s hotels. Not anymore.” by Tim Bontemps and David A. Fahrenthold (Washington Post)
This Week in #ActualNonsportswriting:
- “From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories“ by Ronan Farrow (New Yorker)
- “Does Mark Zuckerberg even know what Facebook is?” by Max Read (NY Magazine)
- “Don’t Press Send: The New Rules for Good Writing in the 21st Century” by Sam Leith (The Guardian)
- “The Man Who Forgot He Was A Rap Legend” by Joshuah Bearman (GQ Magazine)2
This Week at B/R:
While I’m thrilled to be in the A1 spot on deadline, I wish it was under better circumstances.
- “Cavs Players on Gordon Hayward Injury: ‘I Was Hoping I Didn’t See What I Saw‘”
- “Can 7’3″ Edy Tavares and His Size 20 ‘Super Yachts’ Land Another NBA Gig?“
This Week in Picks:
Hot damn, another 3-0 week. While I didn’t count on Aaron Rodgers (another landscape-tilting situation) suffering a broken collarbone, the Minnesota Vikings simply continue to roll. This week brings us a ton in the way of conference games as well as a rematch of the Super Bowl. Let’s see what we can do.
SAN FRANCISCO (+6) vs Dallas
MINNESOTA (-5.5) vs Baltimore
BUFFALO (pick) vs Tampa Bay
YTD ATS: 12-6
Last Week: 3-0