After a media report came out last Friday quoting an anonymous source suggesting the relationship between Rudy Gobert and teammate Donovan Mitchell was “unsalvageable,” that the Utah Jazz might become the first professional sports team to be ripped apart by by the coronavirus pandemic, the All-Star center took to Instagram Live on Sunday evening to refute it.
While Gobert acknowledged that his relationship with Mitchell had indeed taken a beating after they became the first two professional athletes in North America to test positive, he also said they had spoken in recent days and that he believed they would be able to overcome their issues.
“It is true that we didn't speak for awhile, a few days, but we did speak a few days ago and, you know … we're both ready to go out there and try to win a championship for this team,” he told reporter Taylor Rooks. “It's all about being a professional. And, you know, everyone's got different relationships, it's never perfect — people that are married, it's never perfect. So me and my teammates, it's far from perfect. But at the end of the day, we both want the same thing — and it's winning. We're both grown men, we're both gonna do what it takes to win.”
There were reports in the days after the news emerged that Gobert and Mitchell had tested positive that several Jazz players were upset with Gobert behind the scenes, feeling as though he had been cavalier about a disease the team had been trying to get players to take seriously.
In fact, a few days before the positive tests came out, Gobert drew widespread criticism for jokingly touching media members’ digital recorders and microphones, playfully taking a jab at the new separation imposed between the players and the media.
Gobert told Rooks that incident was his main regret in this entire situation.
“I’m someone that jokes around all the time, and people that really know me, they know my heart and they know who I am. I think that the touching the mics is something that really made me look bad,” Gobert said. “In the world, it’s all about perception. You know, people don’t know who you are, but they’re going to judge your character by one action, by one little video. It’s something that really made me look bad and made me look like someone that didn’t care about other people’s lives other people’s well-being — someone that I’m not.”
A few minutes before, Gobert had been speaking with comedian Michael Blackson, and first broke the news that he and Mitchell had, in fact, had a conversation: “We spoke, and we’re professionals. It’s all about going out there and trying to win for the team. We did speak. … People like to believe everything they read.”
Pressed by Blackson to detail his present relationship with Mitchell, the All-Star center said he had been reluctant to publicly address their rift because it seemed like such a small thing in the wake of all the deaths caused by COVID-19 worldwide.
“People are dying every day, and that’s why I’m not really focused on feeding people what they want me to feed them,” he said. “It’s about how much positive can I do. That’s what it is. And when it’s time to play basketball, we’re gonna be ready to play basketball. If that’s what people want to hear, they can hear it now — we’re ready to play together and win a championship together.”
Gobert went on to praise NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for taking steps to immediately shut the league down, noting that waiting another day or two would have put thousands more fans potentially at risk.
Still, he added, it was difficult being perceived as the cause of the league’s shutdown — something he said prompted some to make death threats to him.
He just hoped that some good came out of it, that his testing positive first encouraged people to now take it seriously — something he acknowledged he didn’t really do himself until it landed on him.
“I was the one in front of all that and my name was out there, and I was getting a lot of stuff coming at me, but at the same time, I was happy that I was probably able to save thousands and thousands of lives and protect a lot of people from, you know, getting this virus,” Gobert said. “When we look back at it in 20 years, we're gonna be very happy that it happened.”
Asked by Blackson about the makeup of this Jazz roster, Gobert said he was heartened about their chances, should they be able to resume playing basketball, because they have been such a close-knit team.
“This year, we have a group of guys that is very close,” Gobert said. “We always say, ‘It’s bigger than basketball.’ And it is bigger than basketball. We’ve got guys that care about one another, and when you have that mindset when you go out on the court, you’re just better as a team.”
Then, told by Rooks that many online commenters were now taking shots at Mitchell for his perceived inability to publicly forgive Gobert, the center said he understood the full spectrum of reactions, and said he believes they will ultimately be able to patch things up.
However, he also cautioned people to keep basketball in perspective amid everything that is going on.
“All the fans want is for us to go out there and play basketball. … They’ve watched us grow as people, as players. They want us to to be happy with one another, and we will,” Gobert said. “You know, we’re gonna go out there and do what it takes to help this team. And hopefully we can both keep bringing awareness around this and keep doing as much positive as we can. It’s not really about me and Donovan — this little fight is no fight. It’s about thousands of people are dying every day, and it’s all about, ‘What can we do to help? What can we do to bring some positive?’ And at the end of the day, that’s really what my focus is on right now.”