SALT LAKE CITY — In the 1920s, author D.H. Lawrence described the transcendent experience of watching the New Mexico sunrise.
“ The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine up over the deserts of Santa Fe,” he wrote, “something stood still in my soul, and I started to attend.”
Maybe he was referencing the return of Rudy Gobert, who also makes people’s souls stand still.
Friday at Vivint Arena, the Jazz were gifted back their center. He arrived for the game in a fuschia-colored suit with blue windowpane checks and a matching blue shirt.
The kind of outfit someone would wear to a celebration.
Which it was, for a while. He played 30 dynamic minutes, producing 23 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in the Jazz’s 117-115 loss to New York.
After a 15-game injury absence, which followed an 11-game layoff earlier in the year, Gobert can now get back to getting the Jazz back some of their nastiness.
They’ll need it after losing 16 of their last 21 games.
Gobert’s average of two blocks, 12 points and 10 rebounds are one thing, but his smoldering intensity and fierce pride come extra. His confidence in the Jazz and their future is as valuable as his numbers.
Here’s a player happy to be here.
Not just to be in the NBA, but in Salt Lake.
Combined with the upbeat Donovan Mitchell, they have made the Jazz a popular draw, even on a year in which they likely won’t reach the playoffs.
It was fitting that on a night when Gobert returned, the New York Knicks were in town. Included on the Knicks' roster were former Jazz players Trey Burke and Enes Kanter, both of whom had their issues with Utah after leaving. Last summer, Burke trolled Jazz fans with this now-famous tweet: “LOL, no, I’m just afraid no one wants to play there my guy.”
This drew the predictable response from Jazz fans.
Kanter once deemed the Jazz organization unprofessional.
But for now, Gobert and Mitchell are rendering their assessments untrue. Mitchell is easily the most popular athlete in the state right now. The second-most popular is just re-entering the picture. Gobert has been vocal about his pleasure at playing for the Jazz. He is regularly seen on social media, reassuring fans that things will be all right.
Music to their ears.
Burke was signed by the Knicks as a free agent on Sunday, after being waived by them last October. He hasn’t started a game since the 2015 season when he was in, yup, Utah.
Kanter is averaging 13.6 points and 9.9 points and has started 43 games this year for the Knicks.
Thus Friday marked an intriguing contrast. The gung-ho Gobert/Mitchell combination versus a couple of players who left town angry. Both Burke and Kanter have praised Salt Lake since their initial anti-Jazz comments. Kanter said Friday he has good feelings about Utah.
Though he described Salt Lake as “way different” than other markets, it’s a place he still likes.
“Oh yeah, I miss the mountains a lot. It’s always good to come back,” Kanter said. “Fresh air, good people.”
Burke expressed similar sentiments to Deseret News beat writer Eric Woodyard at Friday’s shootaround.
Kanter said the drama in which he demanded to be traded in 2015 is behind him, calling the Jazz “just another team right now.”
Regardless of the loss, Friday was a night for the Jazz to be optimistic. It also was a night for intrigue. Gobert stirred the crowd by blocking an early shot by Kanter, who soon afterward went low to score. Mitchell soared to block a layup from behind. Burke popped in for the last minute of the first quarter, drawing a smattering of boos, then making an early second-quarter pull-up jumper.
Kanter got booed every time he touched the ball but finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. Burke got seven points in 15 minutes.
A restricted minutes protocol was in place for Gobert, though he was on the court at the end. But there was no mistaking the mood at the game’s start. Gobert and Mitchell, the team’s most valuable commodities, were back together in the starting lineup for just the 11th time this season.
Gobert’s night included one lefty-reverse layup that drew a foul. He swatted a Kanter spin shot down the avenue. On the night, Gobert looked like a guy coming off a good long rest. And happy to be here. Despite having scored just five points, with nine minutes to go, Mitchell checked in to warm applause.
As far as Jazz fans are concerned, the sun rises and sets with both of them.