Money and winning are all that matters, except for when they’re not; they’ve got to be intimately intertwined with the path of least resistance required to obtain them both. And at that point? What matter are they? They have gone and lost what little human instilled meaning they had, and those to whom one seeks praise, those whom one wills to overpower and to be seen as the übermensch by. . . those people tend not to care what fake or lessened stature the other waltzed into in the hierarchy of competition. Gordon Hayward’s leaving for Boston was the end of what could have been a terrific story. It was the end of what could have been a memorable legacy. It is the chance to see who is willing to put forth the work required to reach the highest summit.
I, like many of my fellow Utahns, had a rather unconventional holiday yesterday. So many of us woke early and spent the morning continuously refreshing our Twitter feeds in the hope we would receive the good news: “Utah, I’m coming home. . .” After ESPN reported that Gordon Hayward had agreed to sign with the Boston Celtics, fans started to vent their frustration, and yes, their anger. However, the real pain came from the blows that were to follow within minutes. David Aldridge, Adrian Wojnarowski, and others reported that Hayward had yet to inform the Jazz of his decision and Hayward and his agent told everyone that he was still in the process of making a decision. Each can take that as she will, Jody Genessy reported the agent’s side of the story, but for Jazz fans their heart was rent. It wasn’t that Hayward had kept their hopes afloat, it was that he seemingly did so solely in order that he could compose a hollow letter and collect his earnings from his sponsors as he did so. Fans, the Jazz organization, and Hayward’s own character and integrity all appeared worthless in comparison to two things: money Hayward had already agreed to should he announce his decision with The Players’ Tribune, and a cowardly desire to take the easier path.
For me, it was an emotional afternoon, and one fueled mostly by anger. Anger at the idea that he could leave after all he has worked to build here (unfinished business that I feel overshadows whatever unfinished business he has with Stevens). Anger that he didn’t have the decency to part ways with fans cordially, especially after his decision had been leaked. Anger that he couldn’t thank his teammates in his letter, but could mention another sponsor, Subway. Anger that he didn’t call the Jazz organization himself when the decision was made. . . these people, the fans and the organization, gave Hayward everything and he couldn’t even give them respect as he walked away. In the aftermath of his great indecision, it broke that one of his primary reasons for going was because he saw an easier path to winning and to notoriety by means of multiple all-star nods. He saw an easier path towards fame and money by way of less competition and the bonuses that will come of his being selected as the best among the less. Mostly, my feelings can be summed up as follows: I have had a real desire to hold on to the false image of Hayward that I have cultivated for so long and have come to admire. I have been forced to admit that image was a forgery.
What makes this such a trying time for fans is that the Utah Jazz and Jazz Nation are different than other sports franchises and fanbases. The Utah Jazz are our team. Our only team. They’re the crowning jewel of Utah. They are the sole representatives for us in the war between states and regional boundaries. The Jazz are a family, comprised of fans, players, and organization members, with a bond that can only be bested by that of a true human family. The team’s importance and commitment to the people of Utah is unmatched, as is demonstrated by their constant efforts to keep the team in Utah, and their recent groundbreaking decision to put the team ownership into a legacy trust. Utah is basketball. We breathe it. We live it. We love it. For Hayward to leave the way he has feels like a betrayal of the highest order. It feels like a messy divorce, made all the worse to know he left for a former lover in Brad Stevens, and further agitated by the fact that others knew of the breakup before we did. Hayward left us high and dry. He left us with no time to repair the injury by chasing Danilo Gallinari, or Otto Porter. There is little more painful than to find out that your partner had always been faking it throughout the duration of the relationship.
Still, what I find most troubling is that he left because he viewed the East as having an easier path to the finals. He cowered away from competition, content with the belief that the only thing that truly matters in winning. I touched on this mentality recently. Just yesterday Kobe Bryant, perhaps the most competitive individual I have ever witnessed, tweeted out the following in response to his kid being awarded a participation trophy:
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) July 1, 2017
Winning is not all that matters. It is our goal, yes, but to win was never intended to be the purpose of sport or competition. It’s all about the process. To lose and to use that to motivate yourself to reach higher, to strive further, and to work harder: that is of more value than any ring, trophy, or honour that could ever be bestowed. Competition is supposed to make us better as people, it is supposed to push us to accomplish greater feats and set our eyes on the opportunity to conquer more impossible horizons. Taking the path of least resistance in order to be named the winner does not make one great. To take the easy way, to defy the meaning of competition, to willingly chose to quit climbing the mountains and to quit finding new horizons to reach towards; to do these things is to cheat oneself and to cheat the game one is participating in. It appalls me that a society that so craves progress, one that hangs its hat on progress as its most impressive accomplishment, has somehow come to relish the modern-day ring culture that surrounds, degrades, and pecks away at sports. It shocks me that this is tolerated.
For years I have defended Hayward’s abilities to the press. I have fought with fans throughout the NBA, imploring them to recognize how good he truly is. They always told me he could never be the number one option on a championship team and I defied them — I was sure that the journey I had watched Hayward take, the progress I had seen each year — I was sure that it would one day surpass whatever barrier stood in its way. Hayward found a partner in Rudy Gobert whose development seemed to echo his. They both have taken leaps and bounds as players for the Utah Jazz. I was positive that one day, they would successfully roll this team up the mountain we have yet to settle atop — I was sure they would hold us on their shoulders, there at the precipice, ready to fend off whatever combatants came next. But Hayward left us. He found a smaller stone on a shorter mountain and he was tricked by the idea of a quicker and yet smaller reward. So perhaps those other fans were right. I don’t want that guy leading me to the precipice. I want the one who will stand there with his teammates and push on through the adversity. As Quin Snyder stated just minutes ago in his official statement: “Adversity is opportunity in disguise.” I’m done mourning this loss. I’m going to stand by this team, this coach, this organization, and this family, and I’m going to help however I can to reach that summit. This year, we have the opportunity to see who else is dedicated to the process, who else is willing to work harder and battle on through the adversity to reach our goals. And I’m still excited for that.