PHILADELPHIA — Almost four years ago today, Bones Hyland was told his basketball career might have ended before it started after he was forced to leap out the second-story window of his Wilmington, Delaware, home as it became engulfed in flames, injuring his right knee.
Instead, that moment has since forged a bond between Hyland and the firefighters and first responders who helped save his life that day. Those same firefighters were on hand, along with several hundred friends and family from Wilmington, to watch Hyland play for the first time as an NBA player Monday night.
And not only did they get to see the Denver Nuggets rookie play — they got to see him steal the show from the NBA MVP frontrunners, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, who were the headline attractions entering Monday’s game.
Hyland hit four fourth quarter 3-pointers and scored 21 points overall to help lift Denver to a 115-110 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center.
“Every time I check into the game I do a cross across my chest just to be thankful that I still am in this position just to play basketball because doctors told me four years ago I’d never play basketball again,” said Hyland after helping Denver overcomes what once was a 19-point deficit to get the win. “So that’s something that I thank the Lord for keeping me here and keeping me going. That’s something I play for each and every day.
“I try to go out there and play with joy and that swag and just be me at all times.”
Hyland was playing with all sorts of swag in the fourth quarter for Denver (41-28), hitting all four of his triples in the fourth quarter as he helped Denver outscore Philadelphia 33-22 in the fourth to flip the game around and come out with the win.
Drafted with the 26th pick in the 2021 NBA draft by Denver out of VCU, Hyland was playing for the first time in the city closest to his hometown of Wilmington. And, to celebrate the occasion, several hundred people — Hyland himself estimated 600-700 of them — were inside Wells Fargo Center Monday night to see him play.
He was sure to put on a show for them, as he hit three straight triples to push Denver into the lead midway through the fourth — only to then hit another three that turned out to be the shot that put the Nuggets ahead for good with 1:51 remaining in the fourth.
“Our bench was incredible,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Bones Hyland, I think he had 500 people representing his hometown tonight, and he showed out.”
Among those several hundred people in the arena Monday night were members of the fire department that helped save his life on March 25, 2018, when a fire engulfed his home and eventually took the lives of his grandmother and younger cousin. Before the game, they presented him with a custom Wilmington Fire Department jacket.
When Hyland was asked about how much it meant to him that he’s been able to carry that connection forward for the past few years, he asked to move on to the next question and, after trying to compose himself for a moment, simply put his head down and wept for an extended period of time.
He said it meant the world to him to get the chance to not only play in front of so many friends and family members, but to have the kind of performance that he did to help Denver get a victory.
“Just to come back to my hometown, close to my city, 30 minutes away, and put on a show here, that’s a dream come true for me,” Hyland said. “Like I always say, I’m a kid that wants to show the next kid from the city that this can be you in my position. Growing up I never had anybody who could show me the ropes and that guidance, and so I want to be that guy for the younger youths and keep leading and keep showing them.”
What he showed them Monday night was that he could help spark Denver’s bench unit to lead the Nuggets to a come-from-behind victory, snapping a two-game losing streak. And, Hyland said, he had a feeling those big-time shots were coming down the stretch before he got the chance to let them fly.
“I just knew I was gonna get hot and hit a couple bombs,” he said with a smile. “I kept saying to myself, ‘I know I’m gonna hit it. I know I’m gonna hit it.’ And I got two opportunities where I was wide open and I hit one and there was one in transition and I was like, ‘I’m letting this one fly,’ and I let it fly and it was bottoms.”
Ultimately, though, Hyland said he was glad he could continue to serve as a role model and a symbol for what kids growing up in Wilmington can become. He said when he was growing up there he didn’t have that kind of person to look up to.
But after a decorated career at VCU, where he was Atlantic 10 Player of the Year last season before entering the draft, and a promising start to his NBA career as a rookie this season, he said he hopes he can continue to be that kind of presence for everyone in his hometown moving forward.
“That’s great honestly, just for them to come up here, it shows the support system, and it gives me the support,” Hyland said. “It’s big. It’s not something that I take for granted because not a lot of people have a big support system. They came and traveled even to summer league, they traveled over to Vegas cheering and supporting me on.
“You do good to people, you get good back. I’m a very humble kid. I wear my city on my forearm and I’m always gonna put on for my city. I play for things that’s bigger than me.”