1 of 4
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) acknowledges making a foul against the Atlanta Hawks at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb.1, 2019.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Only two players in NBA history has blocked more shots throughout their careers than Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Those guys were Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo, another pair of Hall of Fame inductees.

With that being said, not to many folks are more qualified to talk about basketball than the 71-year-old, six-time NBA champion — who also owns the record for all-time points.

Abdul-Jabbar was among the plethora of legendary players and celebrities roaming in Charlotte for the NBA’s annual All-Star festivities in Charlotte this weekend.

Although Jazz center Rudy Gobert is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, his absence has sparked debate on whether defense is valued enough in this generation of basketball, particularly in Utah.

Abdul-Jabbar was an 11-time All-Defensive selection throughout his 20-year career from 1969-89 and still sees that defensive side of the ball as a major factor, while others are more enticed with volume scoring.

“If you have a guy that can protect the rim, it’s going to save you points,” Abdul-Jabbar told the Deseret News following Friday’s Hall of Fame press conference. “Those are points you’re not going to give up, he’s blocking shots and getting those defensive rebounds and that limits the opposing teams attempts so there’s value there.

“I don’t know how good a player he is offensively, but that’s good.”

Gobert is a two-time All-Defensive First Team selection who is averaging a career-best 15.2 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks while shooting a league-leading 65.4 percent from the field.

The Jazz (32-25) are currently sixth in the Western Conference and will return from the All-Star break to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday, Feb. 22 on ESPN.

“Rudy’s more of an old-school defender, protecting the paint, protecting the rim and dominating with his shot blocking, his presence,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr described prior to the Jazz-Warriors game on Feb. 12.

Gobert is also second in the league in double-doubles (46) behind Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid after posting 13 points with 16 boards in the latest 115-108 loss to Golden State. He was disappointed by not being voted into the All-Star game, but Kerr and Stephen Curry were still game planning for him in the same fashion as they do for all the other notable stars around the league.

“He’s an All-Star caliber player. Every year, I get a vote and there are always four or five guys that you have to leave off,” Kerr said. “You sit and it’s agonizing because you know they all deserve it, but you have to make some decisions.

“He didn’t make it. He was probably the first guy off the list, but again, it’s part of the league,” he added. “There’s a couple of other guys like Tobias Harris that I thought was having an All-Star year as well, didn’t make it, but this is just the way it works. I would like to see the All-Star roster expanded.”

With Team Giannis and Team LeBron being set from the pool of All-Star pool of players in The Queen City on Sunday, Gobert was far away from the action, resting and strategizing on how the Jazz can finish the season strong.

7 comments on this story

Jazz guard Dante Exum is expected to return soon and although the team is coming off a loss to the defending champion Warriors, Gobert is confident in his squad in Salt Lake City with his strong defensive play in the paint that even Abdul-Jabbar sees as a major asset in an ever-changing league.

“We can play with the best teams. I think we know that,” Gobert said. “It is up to us to take the next step and be able to get connected, and be able to play defense in the fourth quarter and not just three.”