ORLANDO — Erik Spoelstra was looking forward to celebrating the start of the NBA season with his Heat coaching staff Tuesday night. But his mood changed just six minutes into the first NBA game of the 2017-18 calendar.
After getting to know Gordon Hayward this summer as the Heat tried to recruit the All-Star forward in free agency, Spoelstra was now watching Hayward leave the court on a stretcher after suffering a gruesome leg injury just a few minutes into his Celtics debut. Hayward’s left leg bent awkwardly after he went up for an alley-oop pass and he was later diagnosed with a fractured left ankle and fractured left tibia.
“It was horrible to watch,” Spoelstra said in advance of Wednesday’s season opener against the Magic. “I was watching it with the staff, and all of us were immediately silent. And that’s the thing about this league, it really is a fraternity. You want to play against teams when they’re at full strength, and it’s six minutes into it, you just feel for him, you feel for his family.”
The Heat were the first of three teams to meet with Hayward and his wife this summer. The July 1 meeting at AmericanAirlines Arena included Spoelstra, president Pat Riley, general manager Andy Elisburg, CEO Nick Arison and Heat executive Alonzo Mourning. Players also spoke to Hayward, including Hassan Whiteside, Udonis Haslem and James Johnson.
“The little bit I got to know him this summer, you just know how much time he puts into this game and how important it is to him,” Spoelstra said. “It was just really unfortunate to see. I texted with his agent right away, afterwards. I’m going to reach out to Gordon today, after the dust settles a little bit, just to let him know that we’re all hoping for a quick recovery and we’re all thinking about him.”
Johnson, who shares the same agent with Hayward in Mark Bartelstein, went to Twitter shortly after the injury and posted this message: “Man, hate to see these injuries occur. Prayers up to Gordon Hayward.”
“I think we all felt the same as every athlete around the world,” Johnson said of his emotions after watching Hayward go down. “It’s always a competition. It’s always war out there regardless of your agency, team or trying to recruit them and they didn’t come. At the end of the day, it’s a big family. Of course we feel for him and I definitely feel for his family.
“It’s just an unfortunate thing that happened. It’s just a normal play that I’m sure he completed in practice a million times. That’s probably not his first time coming down rough like that in his career. It just happened to be that time.”