HOUSTON — If the Jazz have any marketing sense whatsoever, they’ll immediately offer Rudy Gobert a future job, benefits included. He should have been in charge of this year’s playoff slogan.
The team’s “Take Note” reboot is fine. But after losing Game 1 by 32 points, something more reassuring couldn’t hurt.
A Rudy slogan would be simple, clear and chill: “We’ll be fine.”
That might not actually be true, but if anyone can inspire confidence, it’s him. He has a quiet certainty that’s hard to imitate. That’s why his John Coltrane-themed Defensive Player of the Year pose resonated. Moody. Cool. Slightly intimidating.
If Coltrane had been an NBA player, he’d be Gobert.
The Rudy persona took off nearly two years ago when, after Gordon Hayward’s departure, Gobert tweeted video of himself grooving to music and waving au revoir.
He was saying Jazz were going to be OK.
“That’s the message you want to have,” Gobert said on Tuesday. “You want to stay confident. We believe in our team. We believe in our coaching staff.”
They believe in the power of a long Frenchman who seldom gets rattled and never gets worried.
Gobert’s memorable tweet came in early January 2018, after a dreadful start for the team. Fans and media were quickly losing interest. The tweet simply said, “We will be fine.”
Shortly after, they won 11 straight games and went 29-6 down the stretch.
Talk is cheap, but social media even cheaper. Yet they recovered to reach the second round of the playoffs. Rudy’s story, though, begins when the Jazz traded for him in the 2013 NBA draft. He showed up for his introductory press conference all arms and feet. His jacket looked like it was made of foil, silver with black lapels. Since then he has been known to wear leopard print shirts and magenta suits.
That’s all you need to know about what’s going on inside him. He’s fully composed, yet bursting with ambition. Even as a rookie he had a calmness. Quickly he was speaking openly of goals, like defensive awards and All-Star appointments, but who knew? When he arrived, the Jazz also had big men Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. What use did the team have for a tall foreign import who couldn’t shoot?
Dirk Nowitzki he wasn’t.
But once in the league, Gobert started rising. This wasn’t like Englishman Alan Bannister, the long-ago Jazz center whose main talent was height. This was a 7-foot player with uncanny defensive timing. Now you see opponents worrying about where Gobert is on the court, even if he’s on the bench.
Once he became Defensive Player of the Year, he added to his repertoire by significantly improving his offensive game this season. His footwork and positioning are notably better, his shot selection and movement well beyond a year ago. That led to him setting an NBA record for dunks in a season.
Mover over, Wilt, there’s a new face in the paint.
Gobert’s record-setting jersey was donated to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
It’s the combination of calm and combustion that has guided him. Houston center Clint Capela said after Game 1 on Sunday that he exchanged trash talk with Gobert, which “got him kind of mad.”
Gobert was having none of it on Tuesday.
“He didn’t say a word the whole game, so I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Gobert said.
Gobert went on to make 8 of 10 shots, all six free throws, collect 12 rebounds and block a shot.1 comment on this story
“More than anything,” coach Quin Snyder said, “I think his competitiveness is unique.”
Don’t count on the championship-minded Rockets losing Game 2 to the Jazz as they did last year. But don’t dismiss Gobert the dreamer, either. When he sets a goal, good things happen. In a business of hype, he just wants everyone to know he’s got this.
“We know there are big changes we have to make,” he said of the lopsided defeat.
At the same time, everyone is telling him, “Don’t ever change.”