The Celtics season – jammed with storylines and subplots even before Tuesday’s tipoff – was altered inexorably by the Gordon Hayward injury.
As it often does, local sports talk radio provided a unique and wide-ranging forum for Boston fans and radio personalities to react to the horrific news of Hayward’s dislocated ankle and fractured tibia mere minutes into his Celtics debut.
The two Boston sports stations, WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub, offered a myriad of takes and responses to the season-changing event.
On the WEEI morning show Kirk & Callahan, co-host Kirk Minihane opened by requesting any and all stories from callers about prior injuries that resembled the one suffered by Hayward.
“If you’ve ever broken your leg, or fractured it playing softball or pickup basketball, we want your calls today,” said Minihane. He also added an additional joking point.
“Larry Bird is not leaving that game with that injury, plain and simple. He’s going to play the rest of that game.”
Eventually, Minihane and fellow host Gerry Callahan delved into further detail.
“I want [to hear about] injuries from people,” Minihane explained with a touch of humor. “When they hurt their ankles, how it happened, what their team’s record was at the time, how the officials were in the game, how the insurance was, how your family handled it. I want the entire thing today.”
Callahan requested to know if anyone had been flown to the hospital on a private jet.
Their wishes were granted with multiple stories, beginning with a caller named Christopher who had been playing “sober softball in Southie” in 2006.
“I was running for the ball looking over my shoulder,” said Christopher. “My right foot went into the ground, my left foot went in front of it. I spun, and when I came to, my right ankle was behind my neck.”
“Don’t you wish it wasn’t sober softball?” asked Minihane. Christopher elaborated on his recovering, saying that it took “over a year” before he could walk without a limp.
“And I think it was 18 months before I was able to ice skate or whatever.”
Over on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s morning show, Toucher & Rich, callers with personal experiences also shared their stories. One caller noted how watching the injury live brought back bad memories:
So back in ’03, I had this same exact injury as Gordon Hayward had last night. It was a six to seven month recovery. I feel for the guy, and I wish that he gets healthy and just does all the training that he needs to do. I mean seeing it last night it just made my leg hurt again.
Given the satirical style of the show, it was no surprise that another caller, A.J., offered an off-beat reaction.
“That injury was tough but I think the biggest question now is what level will he achieve in StarCraft now that he has all this free time on his hands?”
“He will be playing StarCraft like nobody’s business,” said co-host Fred Toucher in response. (Hayward is a well known video game enthusiast.)
By the time the midday shows began, the accelerated nature of the Boston sports news cycle had already begun pushing the conversation beyond mere reaction and to secondary developments. Among these was the reaction on Twitter.
“Twitter was absurd,” noted Marc Bertrand, co-host of 98.5’s Bertrand & Zo adding “It was over the top and literally insane.”
“You start seeing every damn doctor on the internet diagnosing and giving the prognostications for it,” said Bertrand’s fellow host, Scott Zolak. “And I’m like, ‘You haven’t even seen the guy. You haven’t even done the exam. Stop with it, okay?’ Let the guy get back to Boston first.”
On WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni & Fauria, the uncertainty of Hayward’s recovery timetable was highlighted.
“I’ve heard a bunch of different things,” said Christian Fauria.
“There is no way he’s coming back this season,” said a caller who said he’s a physician.
And despite the hosts roundly criticizing his dubious predictions (specifically citing the recovery of NBA player Paul George), the caller doubted Hayward will ever be quite the same, athletically.
“It’s like an ACL injury. You often lose a step.”
By the afternoon drive, a familiar Boston radio name was ready with a (semi) hot take.
After first declaring that he believed the Celtics would still be a two-seed in the Eastern Conference, Felger & Mazz co-host Mike Felger poured gas on the conspiracy theory that former Celtic Jae Crowder might not have been entirely innocent in his positioning during the play in which Hayward was injured.
(Crowder vehemently denied any intent in the postgame press conference).
“Do you think Crowder did that intentionally?” Felger asked (temporary) co-host Jim Murray. Not holding back, Murray asserted that not only did he think Crowder definitely didn’t position himself to intentionally injure Hayward, but that the talk was “starting to piss me off.”
“I think people are looking for a scapegoat,” Murray said. Yet Felger held a more ambiguous interpretation of Crowder’s actions.
“You obviously can’t predict that you’re going to snap an ankle,” Felger began. “I’m not saying that he meant to snap his ankle, but you don’t think that he intentionally got underneath him there on that?”
After Murray reiterated his belief in Crowder’s innocence, Felger answered his own question:
I do. I do. And I’m not saying it’s the dirtiest play I’ve ever seen. I’m just saying, I think he got underneath him. I think he got underneath him. And what happened after is what happened after, but I don’t think that Jae Crowder accidentally or completely, 100 percent innocently just happened to bump him with his back. Nope, he got underneath him. He knew who it was, and he was underneath him. And I think the way Jae played that fed into what happened.