Chicago • Given that NBA All-Star Games are typically so defense-averse that any possession which does not culminate in a dunk can be directly attributed to either laze or 3-point hubris, it’s fair to wonder exactly what role two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert might play in Sunday’s iteration.
Count Donovan Mitchell — his teammate on both the Utah Jazz and Team Giannis — among those who don’t foresee the big man willingly stepping aside to enable a crowd-pleasing if ultimately vacuous throwdown.
“I hope somebody tries to dunk on him, because it’s just not gonna happen,” Mitchell said at Saturday’s Media Day event. “He’s gonna go out there and do his thing. … If someone tries it, he’ll be there.”
For his part, Gobert did not confirm his intent to challenge in so many words, though the implication was certainly there when he said, “I play winning basketball.”
In fact, he chafed a bit at the tired suggestion that his only impact comes on that end of the court.
“Obviously, defense is the area of my game that people recognize me for, but I just try to make winning plays and help my team win,” Gobert said.
Besides, isn’t it a lazy premise that the league’s single-season record-holder for dunks might be out of place in a game that cherishes said slams?
Regardless, the Frenchman seemed resigned to the fact some foes on Team LeBron might try to put him on a poster on Sunday evening. As for whether he will indeed try to do something about that, well, he was a bit cryptic about that.
“I think a lot of players are gonna try to go at me,” Gobert said. “I’m just there to have a good time.”
That said, he was anything but vague in explaining that a good time for him would definitely entail emerging victorious. Told that Team Giannis was a significant underdog in the exhibition, Gobert grinned and replied, “We like that. I’ve been an underdog my whole life, so I think that fits us well. It’s gonna be fun to try and get a win.”
Asked what a perfect All-Star Game would look like to him, he was equally straightforward.
“I just want to have a good time, hopefully inspire all the kids from France and all around the world, and try to get a win,” Gobert said. “Might as well."
Just a big kid
Aside from the odd question about his beloved Paris Saint-Germain soccer team, or flexing on behalf of teammate Bojan Bogdanovic’s exclusion from the 3-Point Shootout (“He would win. He just wanted to get some rest, so we didn’t bring him.”), Gobert was mostly pretty stoic.
Mitchell, on the other hand, was unapologetically wide-eyed and exuberant about it all.
With his media “pod” positioned near the players’ tunnel, Mitchell made it a point to shout out a greeting to every Team Giannis teammate who walked by.
“I’ve been saying this — I’m not ‘Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz’ right now; I’m ‘Donovan Mitchell, 13-year-old.’ I’m like, ‘That’s Kyle Lowry!’ you know?” Mitchell said. “I’m gonna keep having those moments because you don’t get to do this. There’s only 24 of us. To be able to do that, that’s truly amazing. Hopefully we’ll be able to do this for many years to come. But I’m really focused on the moment now.”
From Silver’s tongue
Commissioner Adam Silver gave his annual All-Star Weekend address to the media prior to Saturday night’s events. The big news was the revelation that the All-Star Game MVP trophy will be permanently renamed in honor of the late Kobe Bryant, as “Nobody embodied All-Star more” than him.
Silver also addressed the league’s ongoing controversy with China and the related loss of revenue. While he labeled the losses “substantial,” he also noted that reports of billion-dollar declines were inaccurate, putting the figure closer to $400 million. While he said that games were still blacked-out on state-run CCTV, he anticipates “a return to normalcy soon.” He also said negotiations were ongoing for Team USA pre-Olympic exhibitions and/or NBA preseason games to be played there.
And finally, on the topic of the tabled-for-now discussions with the Players’ Association on the prospect of an in-season tournament and a playoff play-in, Silver not only denied that talks are either “dead or dormant,” he even went so far as to say he “strongly” believes they will eventually both happen.