Gordon Monson: The Utah Jazz turned in one year from the symbol of a pandemic to a beacon of promise

On the verge of imploding, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert got their relationship back on track, signed long-term deals and have pushed the Jazz to the top of the NBA

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) high-fives Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) as the Utah Jazz host the Charlotte Hornets, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 10, 2020.

The blame game has ended.

It never should have existed at all.

Rudy Gobert no longer is seen as the face of a virus. That monster has a million faces, 120 million to be more precise from one end of the globe to the other.

And the Jazz no longer are known as the pandemic’s sports harbor, its incubator, its ground zero. No, they now are something much more pleasantly profound — an NBA title contender.

As both Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were found to have COVID-19 on that infamous date, March 11, 2020, and each recovered from it, a fire was sparked between the stars, a blaze that could have if not destroyed a team, altered it inexorably.

What was the exact word again? Unsalvageable.

But salvaged the Jazz were, waving a sort of hopeful banner to anyone who paid attention that what was broken could be fixed, what was sick could be healed.

What has happened over the year since Gobert’s first-confirmed American pro sports positive test is remarkable, a once-in-a-century battle and transition. That initial moment was much bigger than the confines of and the concern in the Jazz’s locker room. It captured the focus of an entire nation, not just canceling an NBA game in Oklahoma City, but grabbing the wide world of sports — and a whole lot of other endeavors — by the shoulders, calling all of it to proper attention, announcing that if COVID could afflict the strongest among us, it was a formidable problem for everyone.

This new thing was frightening, its reach, its breadth and its depth, unknown.

Any mysterious burgeoning health threat — hatched supposedly from bats or pangolins or strange critters of other types, and launched among humankind via wet markets in some place called Wuhan — that now could empty arenas of players and paying customers and grocery shelves of toilet paper and disinfecting wipes was classified a menace the United States hadn’t seen the likes of for a hundred years.

You know the story because you’ve lived it. And far too many died it.

You’re still living it.

Sports, amid many other more important things, came to a halt. The NBA postponed its season, restarting it later in a bubble at DisneyWorld. Some events were lost, never reclaimed for the year, everything from the NCAA Tournament to the Boston Marathon to Wimbledon. Some events were rescheduled for out-of-season dates. Many sports have been played without fans, or with severely limited numbers of them.

With the advent and administration of effective vaccines and continued wise social practices, a devastating plague seems to be on a gradual decline.

And through such undulation, the Jazz have powered on, powered through.

As of this writing, they have the best record in the NBA, and results are no less significant than the reasons.

Gobert and Mitchell have come to terms, both with the team, each having signed long and lucrative contract extensions, and with each other, having sweetly hugged and made up, recommitted to pursuing their goals of a championship right where they are, right where they started — with the Jazz.

Beyond that, the team has retained its supplementary talent and added more for the present push. That’s a nod to Dennis Lindsey, Justin Zanik and, most importantly, Quin Snyder. He’s the man who not only played a huge role on the night of March 11, taking command of that confused, stressed locker room in OKC, captaining everything from finding hotel accommodations for an infected team and a subsequent flight home to calming frayed nerves, but he also held the group together competitively.

Snyder’s vision for what the Jazz could be has been retained and realized, so far, anyway, over the past 365 — and counting — days and nights.

The Jazz and Gobert have gone from the source of sickness, the center of COVID to a symbol of hope and healing. If that’s laying it on a bit thick, considering so many of the nation’s and world’s frontline workers and researchers have contributed so much to a better future, OK then, limit it to sports.

Either way, the Jazz have done their part, learned their lessons, held their ground, stayed their course.

Blame has turned, as it should, to praise. The despair of a dark night in Oklahoma City has turned to a bright day of promise.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.

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