Sometime around 4:30 p.m. Monday, Rudy Gobert left the 21c Museum Hotel on the west end of downtown Oklahoma City and got on a bus for the seven-block ride to the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Gobert left the same hotel nine and a half months ago and got into a car to be taken to the University of Oklahoma Medical Center about 20 blocks away to be tested for COVID-19. It seemed absurd that Gobert actually had the virus, but after returning negative tests for strep and flu, he got a swab in his nose. Less than 24 hours later – just about 10 minutes before the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz were due to peak on March 11 – it tested positive for the coronavirus and ushered in a series of events that will keep the NBA and NBA forever changed sports world as a whole.
On Monday, Gobert made the long walk down the hall to the locker room he had never seen in March. In which his teammates were locked in for hours and strangers and fears surrounded them as they sat in a circle with blue surgical gloves and masks. Waiting for health officials to arrive to test them.
"I went to my office and remembered spending a little time there," said coach Quin Snyder on Monday with a smile. "I'm not going to call it PTSD because it's not that extreme, but there are certainly memories."
Monday's game was a full circle moment for Gobert and jazz, with the flood of memories that were inevitable even though they didn't want to make it the center of the night. You didn't spend too much time talking about it, Snyder said, but little things like being in the same hotel, seeing the locker room, or going to a place with no fans served as reminders.
"Believe it or not, I had the same [hotel] room," said Donovan Mitchell. "Which is ironic."
The Jazz won the game 110-109, with Mitchell hitting a banked runner seven seconds from time. The Thunder had a chance to win at the buzzer with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander driving on his right, but he was hit by the massive presence of Gobert and his albatross arms who denied the shot. Gilgeous-Alexander's layup was short, Gobert reached for the rebound and the buzzer rang with the ball in his hands.
"It's just basketball. I just focused on getting the win," said Gobert. "The one [big] thing was being in the same hotel again, all the memories. It was a little weird."
One player more than anyone else became the face of the coronavirus here in the US – Rudy Gobert. The Frenchman was the first athlete in North America to test positive. But Gobert has a lot more to offer than that moment on March 11th.
Gobert's life changed in March when he tested positive by reporters on a table in front of him a few days after touching the recorders. New protocols from the league to separate players and media to protect against the spread of the virus were taken into account. He became the NBA's Patient Zero, an example with his negligence. He took responsibility and apologized, and then spent two weeks dealing with the virus and dealing with severe symptoms, which included months without being able to taste or smell.
"Rudy has been maligned, and in hindsight we have a better understanding of the virus," said Snyder. "I think Rudy fully recognizes that some mistakes have been made and those mistakes have been made over and over again by different people, all of us.
"At that moment it was such a significant thing and in Rudy's case he had a chance to process it. We always challenge ourselves when we face adversity to make you better and I think Rudy is in a for it emerged place where there is growth. Not just Rudy, but for all of us. "
A lot has changed since March – people, places, things.
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"It's the same year. It's still the same year of all of this," said Mitchell. "It feels like it's been forever, but I don't think we thought about it too much. We had a moment we got here and it was like, 'Okay, we're back. & # 39; "
The March game also marked a turning point for the Gobert-Mitchell relationship, with tensions mounting over virus transmission after Mitchell tested positive the following day. The entire chemistry of the jazz locker room was questionable, with many openly wondering if anything should give. Would jazz trade one of its stars? Could you do it?
Mitchell admitted that it "took him a while to cool off," and the two went without talking for an extended period of time. When the NBA resumed in Orlando, Florida, Gobert and Mitchell were forced to face the problem and repair the fracture. They realigned themselves as unifiers with a common goal: to win.
Monday's game was fitting for many reasons, but kicking off Mitchell and producing Gobert the winner's stop showed the formula on which jazz has built its hopes. Snyder pointed to the growth the team has seen since the night in March, but it goes deeper than winning a basketball game almost 10 months later.
"I think we all value what we think is a normal life so much," he said. "You can't help but remember that evening – it was important for both teams, really for the league. But also the contrast between that point and where we are now, the season, the break, the bubble Coming back and playing again – it seems like a lifetime since that happened. "