Bradford: Proof Boston isn't such a bad place to play

Rob Bradford
July 05, 2017 - 2:57 pm

Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Gordon Hayward might have heard things about playing in Boston. He wouldn't be the first professional athlete to soak in the whispers.

The narrative usually always crops up when free agents are making the decision about whether or not to enter into this market: dealing with the Boston media experience isn't worth the trouble. While money, winning and other elements probably are the things prioritized by Hayward when he made his decision to sign on with the Celtics, the intensity of the market had to be part of the conversation. ESPN's Jeff Goodman, for instance, raised the question a few times when it came to how the forward might fit in.

But, according to somebody who should know, Hayward shouldn't worry.

"I think it's more hyped up than it is," said Texas first baseman Mike Napoli, who played in Boston for almost three seasons. "Some people really let it get to them so it's the big, bad media. I've  never had a problem with the media. And I went through some bad times in Boston. But if I was able to look in the mirror and know that I'm doing everything I can to be professional and help us win, I'm OK with it. It didn't bother me. I knew I was going to do the same thing if I was in Boston or if I was in a smaller market place.

"If you're going to be the type of person who is going to read every article, and there's insecurity there to see what people are writing about you, rather than concentrating on yourself and getting better and just doing your job, then that's where it becomes a problem. I think if you're respectful to people. You treat people like you would treat anybody else or your family, people aren't going to go out of their way to bury you. That's how I looked at it."

There will be some times when that moment the Celtics fans began their courtship of Hayward by cheering him during pregame introductions seems like a century ago. With high expectations comes a great investment, not only from the organization, but also the fan base. Nobody likes to have to awkwardly defend the player whose jersey you just bought at the team store.

Al Horford went through a bit while cruising through a good, but not great, first year in Boston. And while his sister, Anna, was very aggressive on Twitter when dealing with her brother's naysayers, as far as we knew, the player just stayed the course. It was always about his job, not others takes on his job.

It's an approach Napoli reiterates is the way to go.

"I was just worried about being accountable for how I was doing and how I was playing," he said. "You guys have a job to do. That's part of it. That's part of this sport, and any sport. You talk to us to see what's going on. It's your job just like it's our job to go out on the field and perform.

"For me, I'm on social media. But if you're going to be someone who can't handle it … For me, I thought it was funny. Fans would chirp at me and I thought it was funny, and if I ever responded it was in a funny way. I think if you're going to be part of those things and you can't take criticism or how you're playing at a certain time, you probably shouldn't be on it. Everyone is wired different. Some people like to have good things said about themselves. I think it's everyone's personality and how they handle it. It's more noticing that people are doing their job and doing what they have to do to keep their job."

Still, it's impossible to not be aware of what is a preconceived narrative for many.

My default when trying to explain how players often have their minds made up before collecting a paycheck in Boston is when Todd Jones came to town in 2003. The reliever was writing a column for Sporting News at the time and chose to use the space to talk about how big and bad the Boston media was. The problem was that Jones hadn't been in the setting for more than a week.

Jones went on to have a great relationship with the Red Sox media during his brief stint in town. The team won. He did fairly well. And he was accountable when he didn't. It's a formula that works. Just ask Napoli.

"You hear that through the media and stuff but I've always been the type of person to make the best of any situation no matter where it's going to be. I think I have thick skin," the first baseman said. "I just know if you're accountable for what you do and how you perform and you can look yourself in the mirror and say you show up every day, prepare, work hard and go out and play the game right, everything is going to work out."

Take heed, Gordon.