Utah Jazz: Amid Zika Scare, Gordon Hayward’s Olympic Chances Improve


Utah Jazz wing Gordon Hayward may have a shot at playing for USA Basketball in the Olympic Games at Rio de Janeiro this summer, but at what cost?

For the past several years, Utah Jazz wing Gordon Hayward has worked towards securing a spot on the 12-man roster for USA Basketball’s Senior National Team. In 2013, he was part of the Select Team. One year later, he was a finalist for a spot on the FIBA World Cup Team. Last summer, he participated in USA Basketball mini-camp.

Now, with the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro just under two months away, Hayward finds his national team chances growing by the day. Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and James Harden of the Houston Rockets both announced their decision to withdraw from Olympic competition last week.

They join NBA MVP Stephen Curry, San Antonio Spurs big man LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans, Washington Wizards point man John Wall, and Los Angeles Clippers duo Blake Griffin and Chris Paul as the seventh and eighth players to opt out in recent weeks.

Furthermore, the status of players like Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks and both Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors, remains in doubt.

Gordon Hayward Utah Jazz USA Basketball 2016 Olympic Games Rio de Janeiro
Aug 11, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Team USA forward Gordon Hayward (24) shoots during the USA men’s basketball national team minicamp at Mendenhall Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports /

With USA Basketball’s pool of players now down to 23 following the withdrawal of both Harden and Westbrook, Hayward is closer than ever before to realizing his Olympic dreams.

In January, the Jazz wing talked about his desire to represent his country in Rio. “It’s been a goal of mine and something I’ve been working towards and putting in the time, going in the summers,” he said. “They still have to get it down to 12, but it’s definitely good to be one of the finalists.”

Now, it looks as though the Jazz wing could realistically make a play for a spot on the final Olympic roster, but at what cost?

It is believed that several of the Americans who have pulled their names from Olympic consideration have done so out of concern over the Zika virus epidemic that has taken hold in Brazil (although their statements on the matter have indicated otherwise).

The Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitoes, has been linked to birth defects, as well as Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder of the nervous system.

However, despite the very real concerns surrounding Zika, the World Health Organization has indicated that the risk of the virus spreading globally as a result of the influx of people to the country for the Olympics is very low.

The WHO has cited wearing insect repellent and clothing that covers as much of the skin as possible, abstaining from sexual intercourse while in the country and for no less than four weeks after returning and staying in air-conditioned hotel rooms as measures to prevent contracting/spreading the virus.

So, the question Hayward must ask himself, as both a father and husband, as well as a basketball player, is whether or not the chance to play for his country is worth the risk of contracting the virus himself.

Even with US squad’s shrinking player pool, Hayward will have to earn his spot on the Olympic team during training camp in July. Still, his development as a player and status as an elite small forward have put him in a position to warrant strong consideration from USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

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During locker cleanout in April, Hayward reaffirmed his plan to participate with USA Basketball this summer–

"“I’ve done everything I can do to try to make the team. If they pick me, I’ll be ecstatic. If not, that’s how it goes sometimes. Like I said, I put in the time over the past three summers. Hopefully, I’ll make it.”"

If Hayward remains in the player pool, that time and work he’s put in may finally pay off.