Rudy Gobert likes the idea of an All-Star 1-on-1 tourney: ‘I’d play anyone’

(Eric Walden | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert huddles up with school children participating in the All-Star Weekend Jr. NBA Day event at Navy Pier in Chicago on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020.

Chicago • There’s been a lot of tinkering with All-Star Weekend over the years, with the previous advent of the Rising Stars game and the Skills Challenge, the draft-style rosters, and the new format for the game itself implemented this season (replete with the so-called Elam Ending) among some of the notable changes.

Still, many are arguing for more.

One of the ideas being bandied about over the weekend was a potential 1-on-1 tournament to be held among the All-Star Game selections.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert, for one, is intrigued by the possibility.

“I think it’s something the league can look into. I think the fans would definitely love that,” Gobert said. “It all depends on how committed the players would be.”

And, that, it turns out, is an excellent question.

While the two-time Defensive Player of the Year personally loves the idea of such a tourney, he also recognizes it’s not a universally beloved premise among his peers — for very practical reasons.

“Not everyone wants to commit to that when [this is] the only weekend when we can really enjoy ourselves in the season. One-on-one basketball is pretty physical,” Gobert said. “We’ll have to see who would commit. … If I’m healthy, then definitely.”

Asked who he thought the favorite would be among this year’s All-Star participants, Gobert demurred, noting, “There’s so many talented guys in this league, I don’t think any one of us could guess who would win.”

And while he recognizes that, as a player with a primarily defensive reputation, he likely would not be considered among the top contenders, that also doesn’t mean he wouldn’t like his chances.

“I’d play anyone,” Gobert said with a smile. “And I’ll have fun playing against anyone.”

’Dog days

As the All-Star Game approached, chatter increased exponentially about the perceived talent gap between Team LeBron and Team Giannis.

Actually, the growing consensus was that it wasn’t so much a talent gap as a talent chasm. And to be fair, some of the cold, hard numbers justified the narrative — Team LeBron’s roster featured a combined 72 All-Star Game appearances and seven All-Star MVPs to Team Giannis’ 30 and zero, respectively.

Team LeBron, meanwhile, boasted eight players selected in the top five of their respective drafts, compared to just two for Team Giannis.

Naturally, such talk fueled the players on Team Giannis, including the Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell (drafted No. 13 overall) and Gobert (No. 27).

“It doesn’t matter where you get drafted or your draft number. I can tell you a lot of No. 1 picks who aren’t around,” Mitchell said. “… Once you get drafted, that’s [only] step one.”

Gobert, meanwhile, was actually pleased to find out his team’s chances were being discounted pretty significantly.

“We’re underdogs? We like that,” he said. “I’ve been an underdog my whole life, so I think that fits us well.”

Vive la France

A familiar refrain from Gobert in Chicago is how excited he is “to represent my team and my county.” Yes, he’s decidedly proud to be a Frenchman. He still ruminates on Team France’s victory over Team USA (featuring Mitchell) at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China. And he still winces at France’s semifinal loss to Argentina in that same tournament.

So when he heard that Sunday’s game tied All-Star Game records for both most starters born outside of the United States (four) and most international countries represented (six), those were not merely trivial footnotes to him.

Having players born in Australia, Greece, Serbia, Slovenia, Cameroon, and, yes, France, all playing in the All-Star Game will encourage more kids born outside of the United States to believe in the possibility of one day doing the same. The idea that Rudy Gobert could help bring about the next Rudy Gobert is something that he relishes.

“Kids anywhere in the world can watch and say, ‘It could be me,’” he said.