His Friday afternoon videoconference call with reporters was all of 12 minutes, but even in that brief time, Utah Jazz All-Star center Rudy Gobert managed to come off as stoic, somber, introspective, defiant, resolute … and perhaps a little sad.
Being labeled the NBA’s so-called “Patient Zero” — the first player to test positive for COVID-19 — and the public reaction to the league shutting down as a result have given him plenty of miserable moments in the intervening months, he said.
“Obviously, when you have the whole world judging you, and threatening you, sending you a lot of negative energy, it’s something that I would say is not easy as a human being,” Gobert said.
And yet, the situation has also provided him with some much-needed perspective.
“There’s a lot of things we take for granted,” Gobert said. “That’s who you are as a human being, that’s the people around you, and all the stuff you can do to affect other people positively. … I realized what was really important in life. You know, I think I really needed that.”
The Frenchman said that having no basketball over the past few months has not only helped him recover physically, but also to “get my mind right.”
Part of that has entailed reflecting on his relationship with teammate and fellow franchise cornerstone Donovan Mitchell, who famously expressed displeasure with Gobert for the seemingly cavalier attitude he displayed early on about the coronavirus pandemic.
Gobert said that because the two are competitors, they will inevitably disagree sometimes or not get along, but that so long as they both remain focused on winning, he doesn’t anticipate any issues.
Then, as he elaborated, he grew increasingly thoughtful and contemplative.
“No one expects it to be perfect, and it’s never gonna be perfect. I’ve never had perfect relationships — with my teammates or even my family members or pretty much anyone that’s around me,” Gobert said. “But, you know, as long as we respect one another and we both share the same goals and we both do what’s best for the team, that’s what matters.”
Questions about his ability to coexist with Mitchell naturally prompted related questions about his continuing commitment to the organization.
As a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Gobert is eligible for a so-called “supermax” contract extension this offseason. Questions already existed as to the Jazz’s willingness to pay him that much money, and Mitchell’s own contract extension status presents another potential complication. And so, the thinking goes, their demonstrated ability to get along on the court in the upcoming restart could go a long way to determining who gets paid and how much.
For his part, Gobert said that nothing that has transpired has shaken his belief in the franchise or his desire to remain with it.
“First of all, I’m really happy in Utah. I love living here — that’s the No. 1 thing. The No. 2 thing, I want to win. … With Quin [Snyder] and the things we’ve been building over the years, it’s something that you don’t see anywhere else, and that’s something I take a lot of pride in,” Gobert said. “So right now, yes, it’s not perfect, yes, a lot of things happened, but I still don’t take nothing for granted.
“So no, I don’t plan on leaving right now,” he added. “I plan on winning a championship in Utah.”
Taking nothing for granted became something of a theme for the center as he spoke, as did the notion of the time since his March 11 diagnosis becoming a good learning experience.
He noted that it hurt being perceived as the person responsible for the NBA’s shutdown, even as myriad other positive COVID-19 tests popped up around the league in subsequent days. He also referenced the infamous video of him touching reporters’ microphones and digital recorders, and how that spawned the viewpoint that he is a malicious person.
Still, he added, he’s come to realize that people’s impressions of what he’s like are irrelevant relative to how he actually is.
“People just judge you on the perception they have, and the perception they get from … it can be one picture, one video, one interview, one action,” Gobert said. “People don’t really know you. I think you guys know me a little bit, you know, who I am as a person, as a human being. The people around me really know me and know who I am. And that’s what matters to me.
“At the end of the day, I won’t be able to control everyone’s perception of me,” he added, “but I can control my actions, I can control the things I do for the people around me, for the community, the things I do for my teammates on the court, off the court. All that stuff, I can control. And that’s what really matters to me.”
In the meantime, he said he’s hopeful that, with the pandemic still ongoing and being as widespread as it is, others can find some perspective in it as well, that they can get over the “slap in the face” nature of the situation to emerge as better people.
He believes he is there. And now, he’s ready to get back to hoops.
“It’s been a process, but I’m happy now that I’m in a good place. And I’m happy that I get the joy back from playing basketball, and my team, and the competitiveness is back. I’m ready to try to go out there and try to win the championship. That’s the goal,” Gobert said. “And to be honest, after everything we’ve been through as a team and as human beings, it would be a great comeback.”