BOSTON – We haven’t seen much of Gordon Hayward lately, in large part because he was out West continuing his rehabilitation following his dislocated left ankle injury suffered in the season opener.
He was at the TD Garden on Sunday for the same reason most were there – to witness Paul Pierce’s jersey No. 34 being retired and raised to the rafters.
The impact of Pierce on other players is long and expansive, with Hayward being among them.
In fact, the successful era that Pierce helped usher in was among the factors Hayward weighed in his decision to leave Utah after seven years and sign a four-year, $127.8 million deal with Boston last summer.
“It’s one of the reasons I chose to come to Boston, the tradition,” Hayward told NBC Sports Boston. “The success, the excellence they’ve always had. The teams he has been on has been a part of...I wanted to be part of that success and make some myself.”
Hayward vividly recalled his rookie season with the Jazz when he found himself matched up against Pierce, a player he said he had a tremendous amount of respect for in part because of the way Pierce went about impacting the game.
“He’s a guy that as a young player in this league, I looked up to because of the skill he possessed and a guy that wasn’t the most athletic person but could get anywhere he wanted to on the floor, get his shot off anytime,” Hayward said. “Just somebody that meant a lot to me.”
One of Hayward’s early challenges was getting past the admiration he had for players like Pierce he had seen on TV and just play the game.
“It was overwhelming at first going against all the guys that you’re used to seeing on TV,” Hayward said. “You grow up watching them and then now you actually have to guard them. They’re a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger than you think they are. It was fun.”
And now Hayward finds himself part of that same Celtic lineage, trying to do what Pierce and all those before him have sought out as a Boston Celtic – win an NBA title.
Pierce got his in 2008, a decade after he fell into the Celtics lap on draft night with the No. 10 pick despite being projected to be a top-five lock.
While it’s not something that’s talked about often, Hayward is well aware that the standards for success in Boston involve winning it all, which is a different kind of pressure that’s not the norm throughout most NBA franchises.
“You feel a little bit of responsibility on your shoulders,” Hayward admitted. “It’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here, to have some of that responsibility to continue that success.”