Gordon Hayward doesn’t know why people are shaking their heads at the news that he and Utah Jazz teammate Jeremy Evans ate at Olive Garden last weekend.

"I knew people were hating, but I don't know what's wrong with Olive Garden, to be honest," Hayward told the Deseret News.

There’s nothing wrong with Olive Garden.

If there was, there wouldn’t be more than 700 locations nationwide. It’s Italian food for people who don’t know what real Italian food is. And there’s a place for that.

But not if you’re Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans. And not when you’re in Manhattan. The duo ate at the chain restaurant last Sunday when in town to play the Knicks. Since Hayward doesn’t get it, I’m going to lay out why people like myself are “hating” on his dining choice.

There are dozens of authentic Italian restaurants within walking distance, and hundreds just a short cab ride away. Eating at Olive Garden in New York City is like eating at Panda Express in Chinatown. When you have the very best a stone’s throw away, why settle for inferior franchise replicas?

Hayward tweeted that they had to wait for 40 minutes to get a table. So not only did they pass up better options, but they stood in line to get it! Why? One of the reasons was because Olive Garden is “cheap.” Now I’m all for saving your money, but Hayward and Evans will combine to make roughly $3.3M this season. The maddening part is that they don’t have to spend a dime of that to have a nice meal. NBA players are given a per diem of over $100 to cover meals and incidental expenses for each day of a road trip. [Editor's Note: And for those who have been to the Olive Garden in Times Square, it is decidedly not cheap.]

Hayward is from Brownsburg, Indiana. Evans grew up in Crossett, Arkansas. Not exactly foodie destinations. In fact, neither city even has an Olive Garden. So it’s easy to understand why they love the endless salad and breadsticks.

But I don’t think Hayward and Evans will really understand why people were outraged until they try some real Italian food. I can’t afford to fly them to Florence in the off-season, but I can take them out to dinner. And here in Los Angeles where Chompions is headquartered, we have our share of fine authentic Italian restaurants. So consider this an open invitation. The Jazz travel to Los Angeles on April 5.

Mangia?

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