Gordon Monson: Listen to the ovation for Rudy Gobert that is sure to come

Frenchman’s loyalty to Utah and the Jazz and his craft never wavered

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) supports his team from the sidelines as the Utah Jazz and the New York Nicks play an NBA basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022. When Gobert returns to Vivint Arena for the first time after being traded by the Jazz, fans will welcome him with a standing ovation. But, for how long?

Stop your mind and movement for just a moment and get to a quiet place.

And then, listen.

If you dial in, you can hear the ovation, and maybe see it, too. Go ahead and visualize the scene that is sure to come.

Rudy Gobert stepping on the court at Vivint Arena for the first time in months, wearing a Timberwolves uniform — or who knows, perhaps some other jersey? — and the noise swells as the people rise up.

Gobert will get that standing O, the only question will be how long it will last … a minute, two minutes, longer?

And the big man will briefly interrupt his routine and his laser focus, remove his game face for the duration, nod a few times, maybe raise a fist in reciprocal gratitude. He’ll feel the plumbing back up in his eyes and then return to his business of beating his familiar former team. Thumping it, if at all possible.

He’ll bump fists with his old teammates, if any of them are left on the evolving Jazz roster, maybe share a few awkward hugs.

It’ll be weird, but, yeah, somehow wonderful.

Gobert made his name here and grew his game, and folks will not forget that. The only way it could be tarnished is if he rips the franchise and the city on his way out, a la Enes Kanter. That could happen, what with Gobert’s long-established penchant for brutal honesty, but it’s unlikely.

The Frenchman arrived in Utah nearly a decade ago, gangly and unproven, confident and undeterred. He knew what he would get around to doing, but he might have been the only one truly convinced of it.

Everyone else had doubts.

A handful of All-NBA selections, a few All-Star appearances, three Defensive Player of the Year awards later, doubts remain, or else he never would have been traded. And that probably will bother — and motivate — Gobert even more. If I were a Jazz player on this first night’s reappearance next season, I wouldn’t plan on driving to the rim, not without having Wilson stamped across my forehead. Gobert will muster all his might to remind Danny Ainge and the rest of the Jazz brass of the mistake they made this offseason, $41 million per or not.

It’s impossible for me to reflect on Gobert’s time in Utah without picturing him in front of his locker, sitting there as a rookie, shirt off, staring at something in his hand, with an almost regal bearing about him. It was after a game — a loss — in which he had barely played.

He lifted his head up and looked around the room, with an expression on his face that screamed, “When you guys are done messing around, done losing too many games, call my name, let me play, let me lead you to a thousand victories.”

He knew what he could and would do.

It’s just that, at that point, he was still the only one.

Gobert’s subsequent effects and influence on the Jazz were huge. Never large enough to take them deep into the playoffs — but where would the team have been without him? He made the Jazz the best defensive team in the NBA, and then he saved them from being one of the worst defensive teams.

Everything swirled around him at that end of the court, the end he owned.

He was counted on to guard his man, and to cover everyone else’s, too. At multiple junctures in games, every Jazz teammate, while getting beat off the dribble, said to himself, “Ah, Rudy’s got it.” And he usually did.

I had a conversation on the radio with former Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor years ago, back when the Jazz had most all of their bases covered, except for one. They had no protection at the rim — and they were being harshly punished for it.

“Why don’t you do something about that?” I asked O’Connor.

“What would you suggest?” he responded.

“I don’t know, that’s your job,” said I. “You’re getting killed around the basket. Find a big to provide some help.”

“Those guys are tough to get,” he said. “They don’t grow on trees.”

No, they don’t.

The NBA game has changed since that time, but the two favored shots are at the rim and from beyond the arc. That first part has never changed. And it won’t.

Especially when teams play the Jazz now — without Gobert.

Thing is, Rudy wanted to be here in Utah. He wanted to build and bring a championship here. There were never any public calls from him to head off to New York or Miami or L.A. He barked into postgame microphones from time to time, calling for the ball more, calling for certain unnamed players not to be so selfish, calling for everyone to pitch in at the defensive end.

And that bothered some of his teammates, who privately complained about Gobert’s candor. But the man wanted to win and he wanted his teammates to want to win, as well. Any teammate who had a problem with that, Gobert figured, wasn’t worth worrying too much about.

He had his run-ins with Donovan Mitchell, and everyone knew it. He was tagged as Mr. COVID. But the Jazz would have been competitively screwed without him.

Now, we’ll see how that goes moving forward.

The Jazz will miss Gobert, his pride, his determination, his length, his hard work, his presence.

He wasn’t a bro’s bro, as it were. He didn’t make easy friends among his NBA colleagues. He’s not a chummy dude. But he was loyal to Utah, loyal to the Jazz, loyal to his craft, loyal to the game.

So stand and cheer Rudy Gobert when the time comes … for a minute, maybe two, maybe longer.

You can see it in your mind’s eye already, if you get to that quiet place and listen for the ovation that is sure to come.