Lazar Hayward, the Headbanded One, Marquette’s former do-anything-and-everything pride and joy, returned home on Tuesday night. This time his No. 32 jersey was covered in Minnesota Timberwolves blue.
His professional debut in Milwaukee went as most would expect: There was a rousing welcome of applause, followed by half a dozen introverted 3-pointers that wanted nothing to do with the rim or the net, instead plummeting straight the cylinder completely untouched. It was beautiful, nay, divine – Big Zar, a Golden Eagle demigod, was back at the Bradley Center at long last, doing his thing like he never had left.
Unfortunately, then the game had to start.
After he made everyone in attendance get all nostalgic during warm-ups, Hayward preceded to lay a goose egg. No points, no rebounds, no assists. Actually, for the third game in a row, he didn’t even step on the court.
Is the name Lazar or Lazarus? Hayward might be in dire need of a resurrection.
It’s true, things haven’t exactly been sunshine and rainbows and shiny new statistics since Hayward left Marquette last year. The man, who along with Bo Ellis is the only player in program history to record 1,600 points and 800 rebounds for a career, has averaged just 2.6 points and 1.3 rebounds a game for the Timberwolves this year. He’s averaging a scarce eight minutes per game.
Someone needs to tell the Wolves that’s not how you treat a legend. Then again, not everyone can be as lucky as Hayward’s former Marquette teammate and current Portland Trailblazers standout Wesley Matthews.
Unlike Hayward, who was the 30th overall pick in the NBA Draft, Matthews was signed by the Utah Jazz as an undrafted free agent. Also unlike Hayward, Matthews has been able to succeed at the next level and is currently the highest paid player from the 2009-’10 rookie class.
That’s called living the dream. Hayward is dreaming to live. A futile existence at the end of a 13-win team’s bench has to be a death sentence for someone who was used to carrying the Golden Eagles like a European man purse.
Of course, Big Zar isn’t one to complain. He’s the most well-spoken and humble athlete I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. He absolutely loved playing for Marquette, and he’s probably just as happy now in Minnesota, handing out cups of water and clapping after a Kevin Love rebound (after all, that’s basically the only thing to cheer about in Minnesota these days).
Hayward is the sort of player that’s hard to let go. Guys like Matthews, Jerel McNeal and Dominic James come and go. Their talent is replaced by younger faces and fresher legs. Their legacies fade.
But replacing someone of Hayward’s caliber, a person who carried himself with integrity and nobility on and off the court? Impossible.
It seems ironic the week after the Tribune published a story about junior forward Jae Crowder filling Hayward’s shoes, so to speak, the man himself returned home to remind us all what we’ve been missing. He didn’t play a minute, yet I still longed for the days when it was Big Zar, not Crowder, who was patrolling the lane in his blue and gold No. 32.
It’s a shame they don’t retire his number. Because watching Crowder try his hardest to replace Hayward just makes it more obvious how irreplaceable he is.
There were No. 32’s before him and there will be more after, but one thing is for sure, no one will ever wear the number like Big Zar. No matter how many minutes he plays.