Almost three years ago I wrote a story on Rudy Gobert and his incredible ability to prove people wrong. Since that article, Rudy has continued on an absolute tear and pressed forward proving everyone, especially his haters, wrong. He has been named the Defensive Player of the Year twice, made two NBA All-Defense teams, received third-team All-NBA honors once, and was most recently named an All-Star in 2020. Not to mention anchoring one of the most incredible end-of-season comebacks the NBA has ever seen in 2018. Despite what the haters say, Gobert just keeps doing what he does best, and that is dominating basketball games in a very specific way that only he can do.
Here we are, three years later, and Rudy Gobert is once again needing to prove himself. But this time, it’s very different. In one of the most bizarre moments in sports that we will ever witness as human beings, Gobert became the first known NBA player to test for COVID-19, and the NBA season was shut down. He became the NBA’s patient zero, and things started to get really wild. A huge target was put on Gobert’s back when the videos of him frivolously touching microphones in pre-game media conference started to go viral. This, coupled with Donovan Mitchell’s positive test the day after, and some reckless reporting from ESPN’s Woj, led to some insane shade being thrown in the direction of the DPOY. Being mocked by the national “NBA Twitter” groupies was something already familiar to Gobert, but things were about to get much worse than ever before. With this massive target on his back, Rudy was the focal point of the fear, anger, and confusion that many NBA players and fans had towards COVID-19. Rudy’s twitter mentions for those couple of days following these events were horrible. Gobert obviously made a mistake, of which he owned up to and apologized for. But there is no way that the amount of hate and vitriol he received was warranted.
Fast-forward a couple months from that crazy night in March, and the NBA is two weeks away from returning to play. It’s taken some massive planning efforts from the NBA to create the “Orlando Bubble”, and at least as of right now, we have basketball in 16 days. Rudy Gobert is locked and loaded, ready to get back on the floor and do what he does best.
After all that happened during those crazy couple of days in March, Rudy Gobert is going to have to prove himself once again. You can be certain that NBA Twitter is going to get their shots off at Rudy as soon as he’s put on TV again. For whatever reason, the trolls love to go after him. After the Gobert-COVID fiasco, they’ve been waiting for months to get some more lame jokes off on Twitter. If there were any opposing fans in the bubble, you know exactly what signs they would be holding up. It will probably be the first thing the announcers talk about when he’s shooting a free-throw and the broadcast is focused on him. But the best thing about Rudy Gobert is his ability to absolutely destroy people when they doubt him. He’s made a career out of of doing his best work when he’s disrespected or looked over. Approaching the final eight regular season games of the season and the NBA playoffs, you can just feel Rudy’s vibe that he’s coming for the throat again.
As if this wasn’t enough fuel to the fire for Rudy Gobert, he’s also playing for his future. He is approaching the final year of his contract next season, and there’s been much speculation about his future in Utah. After all of the drama with Donovan Mitchell, many began to fire up the trade machine and see where Rudy could land across the NBA if the Jazz had to choose between he and Mitchell. Rudy’s made it clear that he loves it in Utah, and wants to stay and win a championship here.
Does Rudy Gobert want to stay in Utah?— Dave Fox (@Davefox2) July 4, 2020
He is eligible for a huge contract extension this off season. Today he was asked if he want's to stay with the #UtahJazz ...here's his answer.#TakeNote #NBA #NBATwitter pic.twitter.com/ZvdaO2r1YZ
The added factor into all of this is the fact that Rudy will be due for one of the largest max contracts in the NBA history after next season because of his accomplishments the last couple of seasons. It’s something else that makes this situation so difficult for the Jazz to manage, and try to keep Rudy around while thinking about the long-term success for the franchise. You best believe the he’ll be doing everything he can to prove himself worthy of that money and securing his financial future at the age of 28.
There’s a lot on the line for everyone in Orlando, but especially for Rudy Gobert. His career from this point forward can go two different directions. He can be known as the player that peaked right before getting coronavirus, and just could never recover from the criticism and craziness that followed him being “patient zero”. Or he can be known as the player that learned from his mistakes, became a better person, and overcame the judgments of his peers while continuing to play the best basketball of his life. He can use all of the weight from what’s happened over the last couple of months to propel him to an even higher plane of performance. So far in his life, Rudy has been able to overcome the majority of what has been dealt to him. This will be another unique challenge, unlike anything he’s faced. If there’s anything I’ve learned while following and watching him over the last 6 years, it’s to never doubt Rudy Gobert. And I won’t be doing that any time soon.