Against his old team, fun-loving Hassan Whiteside proves his value to the Utah Jazz

Whiteside scored nine points and added 12 rebounds and a block against his former team.

(Rick Bowmer | AP) Utah Jazz center Hassan Whiteside, right, and Sacramento Kings center Richaun Holmes (22) vie for position under the boards during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

Hassan Whiteside blocked Sacramento Kings rookie Davion Mitchell’s shot early in the fourth quarter of the Utah Jazz’s 119-113 win Tuesday and was called for a foul.

The 7-foot Utah Jazz reserve center looked incredulously at the crowd and the video monitor, believing wholeheartedly that he got the ball clean. His teammates and the fans at Vivint Arena agreed with him.

Less than two minutes later, Whiteside got another chance to make his defensive presence felt. Kings forward Harrison Barnes drove in for a layup only to be met by Whiteside, who swatted it away with ease and received an uproarious ovation from the crowd.

It’s clear Whiteside gets up to play against the Kings.

The center started his career in Sacramento and then spent last season in a Kings uniform. He feels, though, he wasn’t able to show his true basketball self to the city when he played there. He tore his patella tendon his rookie year, then badly sprained an ankle that kept him out much of the following season. And in the pandemic-shortened 2020, he contracted COVID-19 and missed time.

“I never felt like I actually got to show what I can do in Sacramento,” Whiteside said. “That’s always one of those places where I always felt like I never got to show Hassan Whiteside there.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Hassan Whiteside (21) celebrates a block as the Utah Jazz host the Sacramento Kings, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.

Well, he’s shown Hassan Whiteside in Utah through seven games. Whiteside was formidable against his former team, tallying nine points, 12 rebounds, a block and a steal in 15 minutes of action.

“He fits in this system perfectly,” Kings coach Luke Walton said of his former center.

Whiteside signed a one-year deal for the veteran minimum salary to join the Jazz this year in hopes of winning. And even more than his numbers on the floor, what the Jazz have benefitted from is Whiteside’s demeanor. Donovan Mitchell compared him to Georges Niang, a person he said “never have a bad day.” Whiteside makes basketball fun when it sometimes isn’t, he said.

“[It helps] when you have a guy like that in the locker room who keeps everything light, continues to have a positive mindset and makes jokes about things that may get on your nerves,” Mitchell said.

When the Jazz aren’t getting foul calls to go their way and the team gets frustrated, Whiteside will lighten the mood.

“We’re not getting s---,” he says in a way that breaks the tension.

“And then everybody laughs and then we get over it and move on to the next thing,” Mitchell said. “You need a guy like that in the locker room. It’s great to have him on the team.”

Whiteside’s fun-loving personality especially came out in Tuesday’s win. He flexed his biceps on multiple occasions after finishing in traffic. When he blocked his friend Barnes, he wagged his finger in a way made famous by Dikembe Mutombo.

“That locker room, them guys, those would be like lifetime friends,” Whiteside said of his former Kings teammates. “Harrison Barnes is one of my favorite teammates all the time. I’m going to send him a text and just mess with him.”

Jazz guard Mike Conley said Whiteside gets more pumped to play Sacramento than probably any other team because of his prior history there. After the game, Whiteside was the last player in the locker and was so jazzed that he was yelling, ”Let’s gooooo!” all the way down the hall.

“We’re happy to get the win for him tonight,” Conley said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Hassan Whiteside (21) puts the block on Sacramento Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton (0) as the Utah Jazz host the Sacramento Kings, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.