Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert’s positive test for the coronavirus stopped the NBA, and the rest of the sports world in its tracks this week. It also, at least initially, upset one of his teammates: the other player who tested positive.
A Salt Lake Tribune source familiar with Donovan Mitchell’s thinking has confirmed reports from ESPN and Sports Illustrated that Mitchell, after testing positive himself, was “frustrated” with Gobert for his actions before his positive test for COVID-19 on Wednesday.
As Gobert admitted in an Instagram post on Thursday, he was “careless” in his behavior in the days surrounding his positive test — though at the time, he did not know he was sick or infected. He didn’t report symptoms until Tuesday in Oklahoma City, and skipped a team dinner on Tuesday night. Gobert also stayed at the team hotel for Wednesday morning’s shootaround and the rest of the day rather than going to Cheseapeake Energy Arena.
Gobert said he felt “embarrassed” in the wake of his diagnosis. “I hope my story serves as a warning and causes everyone to take this seriously,” he wrote.
Mitchell wasn’t the only teammate of Gobert’s frustrated in the immediate wake of his diagnosis, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported. But Gobert’s Instagram post has messages of support from many of his teammates, including Mike Conley, Emmanuel Mudiay and Royce O’Neale. Georges Niang is among others who wrote a tweet expressing well wishes to Mitchell and Gobert.
The Athletic reported that Mitchell and Gobert sat next to each other on the plane and bus rides the team took to Oklahoma City — indicating a degree of personal closeness along with physical proximity. The two have adjacent lockers in Utah’s Vivint Arena as well.
On an appearance on SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt, Wojnarowski was asked about feelings between Gobert and Mitchell. “It doesn’t seem like this is great between Gobert and Mitchell. Is that an astute observation?”
“That is an astute observation,” Wojnarowski said. “The Jazz are fortunate that they don’t have to get back together and start playing games again right now. There’s a lot of work to do to repair relationships not just between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, but others in the locker room. There’s a lot of frustration with Gobert. He certainly was apologetic today. They got great leadership in Utah. In that locker room, it’s going to be a test to get this team back on track.”
SI reported that “How Mitchell responds when play resumes could make or break their relationship."
But on his Lowe Post podcast, ESPN’s Zach Lowe said that many in the Jazz organization expect whatever bad feelings exist to heal.
“Woj was reporting yesterday that there is a rift now between Gobert and the rest of the team. You know, my feeling from the Jazz and talking to people there is that I think once everyone takes a deep breath, that this will be okay. That’s the hope anyway,” Lowe said.
When reached Saturday, Utah Jazz management declined to comment.
“But, look, we’ve all done dumb things and all of us were taking this lightly," Lowe continued. "And I can tell you that Gobert is not the only player I saw in the last 10 days or two weeks who was sort of similarly making light of the threat of this. He wasn’t the only one doing that.”
It’s also worth noting that the order of transmission is still very unknown. While Gobert showed symptoms before Mitchell (who was feeling healthy Wednesday night), the incubation period of the virus is variable enough that it’s plausible that Mitchell could have given the virus to Gobert rather than the other way around. Also possible: the two received the virus independently, from any number of the thousands of people they’ve encountered in the last 14 days.
On Saturday, Mitchell released a video statement through the NBA.
“Just want to say thank you guys so much for your continued support, it means a lot to me. I feel fine, things are going well, just taking the proper precautions,” Mitchell said. “I’ve been told by the health authorities that I’ve got to stay in isolation. So I’m solo in here, playing video games all day. Can’t wait to get out there on the floor and play in front of the best fans in the world. I really miss playing in front of you guys.”
On Friday night, Mitchell was involved in a video game stream on Twitch with teammate and friend Royce O’Neale. At one point, O’Neale was asked about the status of Mitchell and Gobert’s relationship, to which O’Neale replied, “Ask Donovan." Mitchell largely stayed silent throughout the stream, laughing here and there.
But when a clip of the “Ask Donovan” line started circulating on social media, O’Neale and Mitchell laughed at the drama and downplayed the “beef” on the stream. Someone associated with O’Neale and Mitchell asked the fan who posted the clip to take it down, and the fan complied.