It is fitting that the state of Utah has had record heat the past week. It’s as though the exit of Gordon Hayward literally knocked the wind out of it. There have been Hayward jersey burnings, Hayward jerseys being donating to third world countries, and the ever popular duct taping the letters CO over HAY to spell COWARD. Fans are angry, sad, depressed, shocked, and hurt. In times like these, fans want a hero; someone who they can put their trust in and place a belief that Utah will be okay. To most, Rudy Gobert has been anointed to that cause.
After all, this has been done before: when Deron Williams was traded out of town like a scapegoat with the sins of Jerry Sloan’s retirement place upon him, fans looked to Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors as the new faces of the franchise. These rookies were not going to challenge a legend like Sloan or an upstanding organization like the Utah Jazz. I must admit, I was caught up in the hero worship. What easier way to cope with the concept of a villain than by creating a hero?
Gordon Hayward specifically became the face of the franchise. He was everywhere you looked in Utah. He spent his last couple offseasons in Utah. He even played in a tennis tournament last summer. He was Utah ... until he wasn’t on Tuesday when he made his decision to go to Boston.
So here we are with Rudy Gobert. He’s left in the aftermath. We find ourselves with a new “villain” and Rudy seems tall enough and talented enough to be our shining beacon. Look at him. He’s loyal. He’s still here. He’s for the fans. But that’s where we need to pump the breaks.
We’re not pumping the breaks because Rudy Gobert is not an upstanding member of the Utah community. This is not an indictment on his character, his talent, his ability to block any shot that comes his way, or simply to take over a game. We’re definitely not saying he’s not good, not loyal, not endeared to this fanbase. We love Rudy. We think he’s the best. We think he should have been Defensive Player of the Year. We think he should have been All-NBA 1st team. We’ve created an 8-bit videogame themed video series about him. He’s pretty cool. So what are we saying?
Look at what hero worship got us. These basketball players are people just like you and me. They go to their jobs, put in their work, love what they do, and get compensated extremely well for it. They deserve every penny they get, too, because of the money the generate for owners, advertisers, and communities. Which also means they’re enamored by the same things we are: the bright lights, popularity, money, the need to be appreciated. So when Hayward or others choose those things despite our fanbase fawning over them that doesn’t mean we must throw the weight of our pains, sorrows, and frustrations upon Rudy Gobert or anyone in the Jazz organization as if they’re our franchise’s savior.
We’ve seen in the past how easy it was to applaud Kevin Durant for signing a low key contract extension with the Thunder at the same time LeBron James was holding The Decision. People loved to trash LeBron for how he was a prima donna and just wanted the spotlight. That he couldn’t care less about loyalty. For the sake of opposition to make the story hit they used a counter weight: Kevin Durant. He was humble, soft spoken until he wasn’t. He chose to Golden State. The loyal golden boy was golden no more. A funny thing happens when a player hits unrestricted free agency ... that’s put up or shut up time for loyalty. After Kevin Durant left, remember who fans pivoted to for the shining image of loyalty? Russell Westbrook. The same Westbrook they had vilified for taking touches away from KD. The villain had become the hero and the hero a traitor.
We Jazz fans have a unique take on loyalty. We had two of the most loyal players in NBA history play on the same team and the same time for almost 15+ years. That’s a unicorn of loyalty. Because of that frame of reference our version of loyalty is skewed. It’s not necessarily our fault. We were raised on this special brand of a Jazzman. The truth is we may never see that type of loyalty again.
Rudy Gobert isn’t loyal, but he isn’t not loyal either. He’s been on contract with the Utah Jazz since he was drafted. Since being here in Utah he’s been the best player any Jazz fan could ask for. He’s dynamic on twitter. He’s vocal. Passionate. Plays with intensity. Puts in work in the offseason. Improved every year. A Defensive Force. He’s the type of player Jerry Sloan would be proud of. He holds his teammates accountable. He’s visible in the community. He’s a star.
We don’t know. We didn’t know if Hayward was loyal to the Utah Jazz until he had three teams courting his services. We didn’t know if Carlos Boozer was loyal until he announced he was interested in playing for Miami WHILE HE WAS HURT. We just don’t know. Nor are these players necessarily villains for choosing not to be loyal to Utah. Does it suck when they leave? Yes. Does it shake you up as a fan? Of course, it does. But is it an indictment of their character whether they choose your favorite franchise or not? Usually not—except you, Ronny Seikaly.
If we learned anything from Gordon Hayward’s decision it is that we should enjoy what we have right now. We don’t know how long it will last. The only thing we know of a surety is that it won’t.
Seven years ago, the Utah Jazz were embarking on a new journey with Favors and Hayward as the faces of the franchise.
Six years prior to that it was Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer.
Three years before that it was Andrei Kirilenko and a bunch of misfits.
Fourteen years before that it was a new coach named Jerry Sloan led by some point guard out of Gonzaga named John Stockton and a Power Forward out of Louisiana Tech named Karl Malone.
Six years before that it was Frank Layden trying to lead the Utah Jazz to the playoffs with Adrian Dantley, Darrell Griffith, and Mark Eaton.
Now it’s a new era. We have a wing player out of Louisville named Donovan Mitchell that grins ear to ear while dunking a basketball. We have an All-NBA Center in Rudy Gobert who salutes. A speedy point guard out of Australia named Dante Exum. A gorgeous point guard out Spain named Ricky Rubio who’ll throw the most amazing passes you’ve ever seen. We still have Derrick Favors overpowering opponents from the prior era. There’s Joe Ingles who’s elite at being Joe Ingles. And, last but not least, Rodney Hood who can shoot a three and shimmy like a champ.
We don’t know how long it will last. We don’t know if they’re loyal. It doesn’t matter. What matters is they’re here now. So let’s just enjoy that.