Gordon Hayward went down with a gruesome injury in the very first game of the 2017-18 NBA season. It was a crushing blow to the Boston Celtics who came into the 2017-18 season with aspirations of knocking off the Eastern Conference kings, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The injury looked nasty, but you could feel the air come out of the team and they would lose their opening game to those same Cavaliers.
Hayward is expected to miss the entire season, and that is, of course, a major blow to Boston despite the fact that it came out of the gates hot.
Needless to say, Hayward’s injury has been physically and mentally taxing, and he opened up about the mental side of things with Bleacher Report.
Gordon Hayward couldn’t get the image out of his head. Lying in bed at night, the All-Star would close his eyes and try to lull his mind to sleep, but he would see it anyway: his left foot gruesomely bent sideways, the wrong way. Most nightmares are figments of the brain’s imagination. But for Hayward, this horror story was real.
“You lay awake, you can’t fall asleep,” Hayward tells B/R Mag, looking back at the first sleepless nights following his traumatic injury in the Boston Celtics’ season opener.
Plenty of players have suffered major injuries, but few have had it play out in gruesome fashion in front of a national audience. A total of 6.7 million people watched the Cavs-Celtics game, nearly double the audience of last season’s opener on TNT. This past year, more people have searched for Hayward in Google than any NBA player. Even LeBron.
But injuries like Hayward’s are often felt most acutely not in the bones but in the brain. Hayward opened up about that on his personal website, admitting in a Nov. 1 blog post that his “thoughts started to go to a very dark place.” This was the part of the rehab that many warned him about—the mental scarring and daily psychological struggle to keep going.
How do you get over that? For Hayward, the prescription could be found in, of all things, video games. “It helps you turn your mind off from constantly thinking about the injury,” Hayward says now.
Talk to other players who’ve been through this—Kevin Ware and Shaun Livingston—and they’ll say the mental aspect was the cruelest part. Hayward distracts his brain and fills it with positive associations. He pings his childhood friends and Utah buddies alike, rallying them to play Destiny 2 with him late at night. And in those moments, he isn’t Gordon Hayward, the guy whose foot went sideways in front of the world.
Hayward may be onto something. Perhaps the most effective way to get over the mental wounds is to go to an alternate world. Believe it or not, the secret to rehabbing from a traumatic injury might lie in video games and virtual reality.
When looking at athlete injuries, fans commonly analyze the physical aspect of the injury, and that is only natural since athletes tend to be looked at as superhuman. Not to mention, when an athlete goes down with an injury, the first question relates to how severe it is, with a question of when the athlete can return coming shortly after.
However, fans don’t always take into account how the injury affects an athlete mentally. These injuries, especially ones as gruesome as Hayward’s, can take quite the toll.
More from the Bleacher Report article mentioned above:
“It’s like a basketball death,” Livingston says. “Life just goes on without you. Being out of sight, out of mind, that’s the hardest part. It’s the same way if you were to pass away. Life will keep on going.”
To replace the hours he spent in the gym, Livingston picked up new hobbies to occupy his mind. There was no virtual reality, no FaceTime to see loved ones in a pinch nor any video games that allowed him to interact with teammates on the road. He leaned on his family to keep him in a positive state of mind.
“The mental side is the most important side,” Livingston says. “Your thoughts, the people around you, your self-esteem, how do you feel—all the cliches and all the proverbs. If you believe you can do it, you will. Our human nature allows us to have fear, have doubt to creep in, that just comes with the territory.”
Livingston became an avid reader, starting and finishing entire books in one day to keep his mind from going to the darkness. He obsessively read about former NFL running back Willis McGahee, who went through a similarly graphic injury. Livingston visited Hollywood sets while films were being made to get away, taking advantage of his proximity to the epicenter of the film industry.
“The unfortunate part of it is the reality that [the Celtics] have got to keep playing,” Livingston says of Hayward’s situation. “The league still has games. Contracts are still in order. It’s just part of it. The sooner that you accept that reality, the easier it is to attack the rehab.”
To read the entire article, an article that features athletes speaking out about injuries, make sure to follow this link.
While NBA life has gone on, if you will, without Hayward, it’s motivating to see what athletes truly endure when it comes to rehabbing from an injury.
During his time away from the game, the Celtics have seen a great amount of success, which is scary for the rest of the league once Hayward does make his big return.
As of right now, Boston has the best record in the Eastern Conference at 29-10.
As for Hayward, we can’t wait to see him back out on the basketball court. It’s pretty clear they will be a special group once he’s able to join the squad.