(Reuters) - After suffering a devastating ankle fracture just five minutes into his debut as a Boston Celtic on Tuesday, forward Gordon Hayward received encouragement from NBA players who overcame gruesome injuries of their own before returning to the league.
Hayward, who signed a blockbuster four-year, $128 million contract with the Celtics during the offseason, snapped the left ankle during the team’s season opener in Cleveland after landing awkwardly while trying to catch a pass at the rim.
“It brought me back to Vegas and when it happened to me,” Oklahoma City forward Paul George, who suffered a compound leg fracture in 2014 while playing in a scrimmage for Team USA in Las Vegas, told reporters on Wednesday.
“Immediately I felt devastated and nauseous. It took me back to that place.”
George, who returned to lead the Indiana Pacers to the playoffs during the 2016 and 2017 seasons, said he spoke to Hayward by phone on Tuesday night.
“I tried to give him words of encouragement and tried to be there for him,” he said.
George said the injury forced him to take a new approach to the game after it robbed him of some of his explosiveness and bounce.
“I have a bump on my leg for the rest of my life now so I’ll always think about it. It’s always there,” he said.
“It’s something I’ve got to live with now.”
Hayward also received support from Golden State Warriors guard Shaun Livingston, who as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers in 2007 broke his leg and dislocated his left knee cap in what is regarded as one of the most horrific injuries in NBA history.
Doctors even considered amputating the leg of the then 21-year-old but ultimately decided against it.
“Only God has ALL the answers,” Livingston wrote in a Twitter message to Hayward that included three prayer emojis.
Livingston, who had to relearn to walk as part of his recovery, ultimately returned to the league and has since won two championships as a key reserve for the Warriors.
Five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant, who tore his Achilles tendon in 2013 only to return to the hardcourt before retiring in 2016, also gave Hayward a pep talk on Wednesday in the form of an Instagram post.
“It’s a long journey but if you focus on the mini milestones along the way you will find beauty in the struggle of doing simple things that prior to this injury were taken for granted,” Bryant said.
“You will be so appreciative of being able to stand, walk, run that you will train harder than you ever have. You see the belief within you grow with each mini milestone and you will come back a better player for it.”
“Best of luck to you on this journey my brother,” he said.
Reporting by Rory Carroll; editing by Peter Graff