Former Louisville guard Kevin Ware’s right leg shattered during the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Current Golden State Warriors guard Shaun Livingston tore almost every part of his left knee in February 2007. But Hayward’s fellow All-Star and USA Basketball participant Paul George, who suffered an open tibia-fibula fracture during a Team USA Exhibition in August 2014, knows best how Hayward is feeling now.
Paul George said Gordon Hayward's ankle injury made him "nauseous" and spoke about the broken leg he suffered in Vegas: pic.twitter.com/9WSOq1S6NG
— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) October 18, 2017
“It just brought me back to Vegas and when it happened to me,” George told reporters from shootaround in Oklahoma City on Wednesday. “Immediately, I felt devastated. I was like nauseous watching, going back to that play, so immediately after it happened I texted Gordon. We talked last night. I just tried to give him words of encouragement, and I just tried to be there for him.”
George missed almost the entirety of the 2014-15 season, returning only to play an average of 15 minutes a night over the final six games of the season — eight months after the initial injury. He played all but one game in 2015-16, submitting similar, if not better, numbers to those he produced while leading the Indiana Pacers to consecutive Eastern Conference finals appearances in 2013 and 2014. He’s made the All-Star team in both seasons since returning, and he’s still only 26 years old.
But none of that means he’s the same player he was before the injury. George says he never will be.
“You’ll always think about it,” he added. “I have a bump on my leg for the rest of my life now, so I always think about it. It’s always there. Then, just being on the court, I’m not as explosive, I’m not as bouncy as I was. It’s something I’ve got to live with now. Thankfully, I was able to gain mentally and learn the game a different way, spending my time off, but it’s always going to be a part of his story.”
That’s sobering news for Hayward and a Celtics organization that invested $128 million in the 27-year-old for the next four years. Hayward’s athleticism added another dimension to a player who was also fundamentally sound in every aspect of the game. Can he ever be the same player again? George’s production may be similar, but that doesn’t mean he’s the same. It also doesn’t mean he’s any worse.
Asked a question that almost every player who has ever suffered a season-ending injury will be asked at some point — whether the physical or mental part of the rehab process is the biggest obstacle to overcome — George added, “It’s both, man. It’s both. Gordon has never dealt with something as bad as that. When you’re dealing with, especially Game 1 of the season, it’s just unfortunate. So, it’s a little bit of everything. It’s physical. It’s mental. I’m sure emotionally he’s in a different state of mind. It’s just bad timing for that. Honestly, it’s just hard to get over that. For me, it was just hard to see that.”
It was hard for everybody watching, but especially George. The NBA community came out in droves sending best wishes to Hayward for a full and speedy recovery, and George was among the first.
— Paul George (@Yg_Trece) October 18, 2017
God bless you bro @gordonhayward ! help him thru this god!
— Paul George (@Yg_Trece) October 18, 2017
We should point out that George’s injury involved a compound fracture to both bones in his lower leg. Hayward fractured only the tibia while dislocating his ankle, according to Boston coach Brad Stevens. Neither George nor Hayward suffered any ligament damage, if Celtics broadcaster Mike Gorman’s report following the game is accurate. That would be a silver lining on a dark cloud over the C’s.
Still, any recovery timeline will not come until after the surgery, and Hayward still hadn’t undergone a procedure as of Wednesday morning, according to the Boston Herald’s Mark Murphy. The Celtics have yet to issue a statement regarding his status. Hayward’s wife remained positive he will return stronger.
“It sucks, but this is what happens and you move on to the next step,” Robyn Hayward wrote on Instagram on Wednesday morning. “Gordon is so tough and is the hardest worker, so I know he will come back stronger. He’s wired differently. Gordon’s a true competitor and will take this and use it as fuel to be that much better. This is an obstacle that he’s more than ready to overcome.”
Paul George understands all too well.
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