Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — When Gordon Hayward stepped to the free-throw line early in the fourth quarter, the Vivint Arena crowd, predictably, showered him with boos.
Of course they did.
This was once the most reviled man in the state (well, at least among the Jazz fan portion of it). He broke hearts across Utah and ruined Fourth of July barbecues — and then, to make matters worse, he looked to be just what the Jazz were missing during their next championship window.
That free-throw attempt on Monday, though, was really the only time that amount of vitriol came out in Utah's blowout win over Hayward's Hornets.
The Jazz have long moved on from Hayward. It's been nearly six years since the infamous summer when the homegrown All-Star spurned Utah and headed to Boston. The Jazz have a new owner, a new coach and an entirely new team.
Maybe time has healed the wounds, or maybe it's just apathy at this point, but it seems Jazz fans have started to fully move on, too.
And, yes, Hayward noticed.
"It's always good to come back," Hayward said. "I still see a lot of familiar faces, and I still have some good relationships here in Utah. And so it's fun; it's fun coming back here and playing. And tonight, it seemed like there were certainly less boos than years past, so that's nice."
When asked if he was surprised that boos are still ringing down, he said he actually understood.
"It kind of is what it is. Honestly, I get it," he said. "Like I said, tonight, there was less, though, so that's a good thing."
So does less boos mean forgiveness? Maybe. Maybe not.
The first time Hayward came back to Utah — over a year after he left the Jazz — he was lit up with jeers every time he even thought about going near the ball. On Monday, there were some choruses of disdain here and there, but the fans, mostly, treated him like any other opponent that comes into Vivint Arena.
That reaction may very well have been different if Hayward had thrived after leaving or was currently on a team that wasn't actively bottoming out. But as it is, his career has been torpedoed by injuries (both major and minor), and he's never come close to reaching the same peak level of play he saw during his Jazz days.
In his final year with Utah, he was one of the game's best forwards. Now, he's on what may be the NBA's most forgettable teams. It's hard for fans to feel like a jilted ex lover when Hayward never found a better match.
In some ways, it's reminiscent of what Deron Williams went through — at least the beginning of it. Williams was cast as a villain for his role in Jerry Sloan's retirement, and was treated as such for years. He also never experienced the same type of success he had in Salt Lake City, so when he said he hinted that he regretted how things ended in Utah, he was welcomed back into the fold.
Earlier this month, Williams was even honored as one of the Jazz's former All-Stars to a rousing ovation.
Could that be in Hayward's future? Maybe.
Regardless, he still appreciates the past.
"I was a kid when I first got here," he said. "We had a couple of children while I was here. My wife actually sent me a video of my last year playing here of how old our daughter was. She was about a year and a half. It was cute to see her. It's crazy how time flies. Nothing but great memories here, and had a good run while I was here."