"Thank you, Utah."
BY GORDON HAYWARD, THE PLAYERS' TRIBUNE
This has been the toughest decision that I’ve ever had to make in my life. This weekend has probably been the longest weekend of my life. And today … well, today has definitely been one of the craziest days of my life. But I wanted to make sure that I got this right.
As you can see, it’s taken me a while, and thanks to everyone for their patience. I can’t even begin to count the number of conversations I’ve had with my wife, Robyn, and the rest of my inner-circle, since the season ended, and all the way up to this evening — just going through every possible angle, in every potential direction.
My meetings with all three teams during this process — Miami, Boston and Utah — were just unbelievable. They couldn’t have been more impressive. Each meeting left me convinced that the team I’d just met with was the right fit. And even after I slept on it last night, while I was leaning heavily in one direction … I still wasn’t 100-percent convinced about what I wanted to do.
What’s crazy is — before I even had a chance to make my decision, before I had a chance to sit down and write this, and before I even had a chance to talk about it with the people I love — I was already reading reports about where I was going. And I guess that’s just the way things work, in 2017. But I’m sorry it had to work out like that.
This was a life-changing decision for me and my family, and something we took really seriously. And from the very start of this process, one thing stood out as important: I knew that I wanted the fans and the organizations to hear my decision directly from me.
After seven years in Utah, I have decided to join the Boston Celtics.
I know that will be tough to hear for Jazz fans — and I really want you all to know that you mean the world to me and my family. Over the past few days, I’ve been genuinely torn. And I know that this process isn’t easy on the fans, either. So I just want to be as straight-up as possible about why I’m coming to Boston.
First, though, if you don’t mind, I would really like to just take a moment and express how much these last seven years in Utah have meant to me. Because there’s only one fair way to say it: They’ve meant everything.
When I got to Salt Lake City, in the summer of 2010 — I know it’s a cliché, but man, it’s the truth: I was just a kid. I remember the drive. I drove all the way there, with my dad, from Indiana to Salt Lake City, just to save money. I knew I had all of these expectations as a top 10 pick … but at the same time, I was only 20. This was my first job away from home. And I was so nervous about everything that was in front of me. I remember my first real routine as a pro — finding a Subway near me (well, a mile or two away), and just walking there, every day, so I could use my Subway card like I always had. And that was really it for me, at first: Practice, and Subway, and video games. I was pretty closed off.
And then I just think about how far I’ve come during my time here. I’ve truly grown up in Salt Lake. I’ve become a man, and I’ve become a professional. I’ve gone from being a kid … to now having a wife and two kids. I’ve gone from having anxiety over leaving my family … to now having a family of my own. A lot has happened to me during my time here, and I honestly can’t think of any part of it that I haven’t cherished. This is a special place, and I know that the impression it’s made on me will long outlast the impression I’ve made on it.
The Jazz organization, and everyone there who’s played a part over the course of my career in Utah … more than anything else, they’re the people who make this decision so difficult. Steve Stark, and the entire Miller family — they’re first-class in everything they do. Dennis Lindsey — if there’s anyone who’s most responsible for the winning culture in Salt Lake, it’s him. I really could just go on here, naming people, forever.
I was literally the last Jazz player left who played under Coach Sloan — and I always took that as a lot more than just some piece of trivia. That was something that truly made me feel like a part of the fabric of this franchise. And that fabric is something that has meant a lot to me, ever since.
And there are so many people who have been a part of that fabric, who have made such a huge impact on my life — people who a lot of casual fans probably don’t even know. And when I think about leaving Utah now … those are some of the people who I’m going to miss the most.
I think about our assistant coach, Mark McKown, who has been with me from Day One. I remember he took me to Santa Barbara as a rookie, with Jeremy Evans, back when he was our strength coach — he called us G-Dilly and J-Dally. Because we were rookies, and “all we did was dillydally.” I doubt I’ll ever remember that and not smile.
I think about Doug Birrell, who’s our massage therapist — who was there from the start, with John and Karl. And we’ve just had … man, just hours and hours of conversation, over the years. Everything from arguments, to debates, to heart-to-hearts. Stuff that would never be repeated — which is something you really learn to value as a professional athlete. But that’s how it’s always felt within this organization. There’s always been real friendship here. There’s a circle of trust.
I think about Isaiah Wright, who’s now our strength coach — but when I got there he was just a pudgy little ball boy. And we’re about the same age, so in a lot of ways we’ve grown up together, and worked our way up together in the franchise. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the work he’s put in with me, just to make me a better basketball player. Oh yeah — and that one party he invited me to, back when I was a rookie.
I think about all of the great teammates I’ve had here, like Jeremy. I’ll never forget — 2012, Jeremy is in the dunk contest, and I’m supposed to help him with a dunk. And it’s the night before, and we’re at our hotel in Orlando … and we’re like two kids who didn’t study before the final. We’ve got nothing. And man, we’re just panicking, we’ve got no ideas, we’re trying to think of something. And then we finally end up finding this ratty little YMCA court, near the hotel, at like 3 in the morning, and we try to get a few reps in. And that’s when Jeremy thinks up his dunk where I toss him two balls at once. So we practice it one time, literally once, and that’s it. Totally wing it. And of course Jeremy ends up nailing it, and winning the dunk contest.
I think about Coach Snyder, who, our first conversation, when we met for dinner after he was hired — we didn’t even talk basketball once. Not a single word. It was just life … and family … and who we were as individuals. As a coach, Coach Snyder is incredible in every aspect of the game. His leadership, his unique ability to motivate, and his insane attention to detail are such special qualities that I will miss so much. There’s a lot of people I have to thank for where I am today as a basketball player, but honestly none more than Coach Snyder.
I think about Johnnie Bryant, a guy who was a developmental coach when I first got here, and now he’s on the bench as an assistant. This past summer was probably the most important summer of my career, basketball-wise — just training to really take that next step as a player. And Johnnie, he’s just the best there is — he was right there, every step of the way, with me. He’s the guy who was having me work out with Kobe. He’s the guy who was sending me texts, late at night, early in the morning, just encouraging me, pushing me, “study this video,” “look at this game film.” He’s really the guy, at the end of the day, who found the All-Star in me.
And then I just think of the people of Utah, in general. They say that Salt Lake is a great place to raise a family — and I know that sounds like something people just say. But you spend enough time here … and you realize that it’s true. And for me, as far as that goes — I feel like I’m indebted to Salt Lake, twice over. Because not only has this been the city where I’ve started my family, and not only has this been the city that’s helped raise my daughters for the last couple of years … but long before that, during my first few years in the league — I also feel like this city helped raise me. And I feel like this city took me in, as part of its own family.
And I just wanted to say thank you for that.
And thank you for everything.
The last time I had a decision this tough … it was in college, during my sophomore year, after we lost to Duke in the national championship game. I’d gotten on NBA radars as a result of my play that March, and there were projections that I might even be a first-round pick in the draft. And so I had a decision to make: Should I leave my comfort zone at Butler and move on to the NBA? Or should I stay another year, and give it another go, and try to finish what we’d started — try to win a championship?
It was such a tough decision. But there was one person who I knew I could talk to about it from every angle, who I knew would give me the smartest and most honest perspective available: Coach Stevens.
Coach Stevens was so great about it, all of it. He helped me lay out my options, and talked it through from both sides … but in the end, when I needed it, he also gave me my space. And he also let me know that it was my choice to make — and that he would be there for me, on the other side of it, either way. And of course I ended up deciding to leave: I declared for the draft, and got drafted, and started my new NBA life in Utah. But it always meant a lot to me, to know how, in that moment, even with our lives at this strange crossroads together, Coach Stevens was someone I could count on.
And I guess it’s pretty crazy. Because seven years later, I had to make an even tougher decision — and again, Coach Stevens and I found ourselves at a crossroads together. And again, he was the person I knew I could count on the most.
And now I’ve decided to sign with the Boston Celtics.
There were so many great things pulling me in that direction. There was the winning culture of Boston, as a city — from the Sox, to the Pats, to the Bruins. There was the special history of the Celtics, as a franchise — from Russell, to Bird, to Pierce, and it goes on. There was the amazing potential of this current Celtics team — from ownership, to the front office, to a talented roster with Isaiah, and Al, and everyone else. And of course, there was Coach Stevens: Not just for the relationship that we’ve built off the court — but also for the one that we started building on the court, all of those years ago, in Indiana.
And that unfinished business we had together, back in 2010, when I left Butler for the NBA … as far as I’m concerned, all of these years later, we still have it:
And that’s to win a championship.