Chicago • It would be easy to look back at Rudy Gobert’s All-Star Game snub of a year ago — in which he famously shed a a few tears as he recounted breaking the news to his disappointed mom — and then to fast-forward to this year’s All-Star Game selection and conclude that at least he didn’t have to wait that long to accomplish his goal.
Thing is, the Utah Jazz center hasn’t merely dreamed of being an All-Star over these past couple seasons. It’s been something he’s aimed to accomplish from the time he fist started playing basketball back in Saint-Quentin, France.
“When I was a kid, when I said I was gonna be a professional player, people were laughing at me. Then when I said I was gonna be in the NBA, people were laughing at me. And the same when I said I was gonna be an All-Star,” Gobert said. “So when I look back to all the things people don’t really know about — all the [tribulations] and things I’ve been through as a person, it’s pretty amazing to be here today.”
So yeah, when he checks into the game for Team Giannis this Sunday at the United Center, it’ll mean a little something extra to him.
That said, coach Quin Snyder said his center’s selection this year should not be looked at as the correction of a previous wrongdoing, but as a glimpse of greatness yet to come.
NBA ALL-STAR GAME
When • Sunday, 6 p.m. MST
TV • TNT
“My advice to Rudy has always been to just try to control what you can control,” Snyder said. “Obviously I feel terrific about it. I don’t want him looking back — no one’s looking back. He’s got an even brighter future ahead.”
Still, Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell — a fellow first-time All-Star, as well as a teammate playing for captain Giannis Antetokounmpo’s squad — couldn’t help but recall the scene at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus practice facility back in February 2019, when Gobert met with the media the day after he was snubbed by the Western Conference coaches.
“I was shooting right next to him when he broke down, and you could feel it. You could definitely feel the passion behind it of working so hard,” Mitchell said. “I could tell how nervous I was after only really having one year of a serious shot, but imagine having three years straight. So for him, this is huge. I’m really excited for him — he’s worked so hard. I told him I respect him, because you can go one of two ways after last year — you can let it hang over you and really defeat you, or you can do what he did and kick it right in the butt. He came back and became an All-Star. I was really excited for him.”
Gobert is really excited, too, even if he’s tried to temper his enthusiasm between the day the All-Star reserves were announced and now, trying to focus on keeping the Jazz among the league’s elite.
Now, though, he can afford to reflect a bit on the process of getting there.
While Gobert was no different from most young basketball players in dreaming of one day becoming an NBA All-Star, it first started to feel like a distinctly realistic possibility for him “a few years before I got drafted.
“I remember talking to one of my teammates back in France — I was appearing on the draft board, and people knew I was gonna get drafted, but I was telling him I wanted to be an All-Star,” Gobert added. “And he was like, ‘We know you’re gonna get drafted, but let’s not get carried away.’”
At the time, that unnamed teammate seemed perfectly rational for having his doubts. When Gobert was selected 27th overall by the Denver Nuggets back on June 27, 2013 (and immediately traded to the Jazz), the Frenchman had just turned 21 years old the day before, and was coming off a season in which he’d averaged a modest 8.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game for Cholet Basket in the LNB Pro A league.
Rudy Gobert’s average scoring, rebounding and blocked shot stats, year-by-year:
2013-14 • 2.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.9 blocks
2014-15 • 8.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.3 blocks
2015-16 • 9.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.2 blocks
2016-17 • 14.0 points, 12.8, rebounds, 2.6 blocks
2017-18 • 13.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.3 blocks
2018-19 • 15.9 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.3 blocks
2019-20 • 15.6 points, 14.6 rebounds, 1.9 blocks
In his NBA rookie season, he appeared in eight games for the Bakersfield Jam (of what was then the D-League), averaging 13.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks, on 74.1% shooting from the field. With the Jazz, though, he was buried on the depth chart behind Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, and appeared in only 45 games, averaging just 2.3 points, 3.4 boards, and 0.9 blocks, while shooting 48.6% overall and 49.2% on free throws.
Now in his seventh season, Gobert is putting up a nightly line of 15.6 points, 14.6 rebounds, and 2 blocks, while leading the league with his 68.9 FG%. The night Gobert was named an All-Star, Jazz radio play-by-play voice David Locke recalled a rookie Gobert hustling with then-Bakersfield teammate Ian Clark to catch a cab to the team’s La Quinta Inn, as a means of illustrating the metaphorical distance the big man has traveled.
“I came a long way, man. I came a long way,” Gobert agreed. “My rookie year, I wasn’t playing a lot, but I knew that if I kept working hard every day I would be able to become a very good player in this league. I don’t feel like I’ve scratched the surface of who I can be as a player. But it’s great to be able to be rewarded.”
It’s a reward he still can’t quite fully believe.
Gobert recalled the plan for the day of the reserve announcements was for him, Mitchell and Snyder to watch together the 5 p.m. MT broadcast of TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” which was to break the news. Except the plan went awry when, upon awaking from a nap 15 minutes before the show, Gobert discovered that reporter Shams Charania of The Athletic had procured the list early and tweeted it out — revealing that both Gobert and Mitchell were in.
Asked if they bothered to catch the broadcast anyway, Gobert smiled.
“We did. … We just acted like we didn’t know and went to watch the TV,” he said.
This time around, his mother’s reaction was not tears of sadness, but rather anger — at herself for falling asleep and missing the announcement, which took place at 1 a.m. in France. She’ll get to experience a whole other range of emotions, though, when she attends the game Sunday along with Gobert’s brother, sister, and niece.
Meanwhile, Gobert just recently had another conversation with that former French teammate who doubted his All-Star capability. What did he have to say for himself now?
“He said, ‘You were right! You were right! But at the time, when I saw you play, I didn’t think you were gonna be an All-Star,’” Gobert recounted with a smile. “ … You gotta believe in yourself and put the work in, and sooner or later, good things are gonna happen. … I made it happen.”