SALT LAKE CITY — A late-night video tweet from Rudy Gobert hit the timelines of all his 355,000-plus Twitter followers on the night of Sept. 13.
The shirtless Utah Jazz center, wasn’t in the basketball gym, he stood in the center of the boxing ring at Central Park Community Center with local trainer Matt Peña.
Gobert snapped his wrist with each punch, slightly turned his hips and tucked his shoulders to display great mechanics. He then brought his guard right back to punching in the 10-second clip.
This visual image was just a sneak peek into the summer training regimen of the NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, where he also became stronger and worked on finishing around the basket.
But the sweet science holds a special place in his heart.
“I was boxing before I started basketball, and then when I really started to focus on basketball, I got away from boxing for a long time, but for the last three or four years, I’ve got back on track and I get better every summer,” Gobert said.
In addition to his on-court skill work and strength training with the Jazz staff plus playing competitive games at the Rico Hines UCLA Run, Gobert also put in ring work with Peña to enter the 2018-19 season in tip-top condition. They sometimes met up once or twice a week, depending on Gobert’s busy schedule, where he made his personal goals clear.
“I don’t want to put any limit,” Gobert said. “Definitely want to be one of the best players in the history of the game. I think that’s a good goal to have.”
His Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell joked during Media Day that he’s working with another goal in mind, although the boxing training halts during the season.
“He’s trying to train to fight somebody pro, he won’t tell y’all that, though,” Mitchell said, laughing.
Unfortunately NBA players aren’t allowed to participate in fighting, boxing or wrestling for safety purposes, but if ever given the green light, Gobert would certainly be down.
“I wish,” Gobert said. “But you’ve got to talk to (Jazz general manager) Dennis Lindsey. If Dennis Lindsey lets me do it, I’ll do it any day.”
But in the meantime, Gobert throws on the leather gloves just to gain an advantage on the hardwood. Boxing workouts with Peña aren’t cupcake sessions just for show, either.
“He doesn’t train me just to do cardio or like the Instagram models do,” Gobert described. “It’s really like he’s teaching me to use my reach and how to defend against guys in different ways they will go at me.
“The footwork, the skills … so yeah, it’s really great to learn some different stuff.”
Gobert’s standing reach is up to 9 feet, 9-inches tall. He also stands 7-foot-1, weighs 245 pounds and has a 7-foot, 9-inch wingspan at 26 years old as he enters his physical prime for Year 6.
Dealing with a man of that stature, Peña finds ways to challenge him. They work on hand-eye coordination, speed, agility and ways for Gobert to see and react better.
As the current head coach of the South Salt Lake PAL boxing team, he holds a wealth of knowledge and experience. He also achieved nationwide fame for training five UFC champions, including Robbie Lawler, Matt Hughes, Pat Miletich, Jens Pulver and Tim Sylvia.
“Any sort of boxing training that I’ve done with those guys is pretty similar to what I’ve done with Rudy,” Peña explained. “A lot of the rotational movements, your pivoting, being able to find balance in your pivots to make moves functionally.
“In boxing, you’re constantly having to have balance in your torque, so being able to move back and forth and learning how to use your pivots and your rotation in your core more efficiently and more effectively instead of laboring to one side is a huge way it helps for basketball,” he added.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist boxer and current world champion Claressa Shields also sees the benefits of having boxing as a cross-training complement to basketball.
Shields is currently preparing for a undisputed women’s middleweight world title fight against Christina Hammer on Nov. 17, but also played basketball briefly in middle school and high school.
“It’s just using the whole body, and it’s that coordination,” said Shields, who enters the USA Boxing Alumni Hall of Fame in Salt Lake City on Dec. 7. “When you learn those combinations first and start sitting and slipping, it just makes you more aware.
“It makes muscles twitch faster than they would, and the way you have to be in shape for boxing, you’re using your arms, legs for balance, core, good footwork,” she said. “It’s so many things that go around boxing that can help in basketball when you’re moving up and down the court, and this teaches you when to use that energy.”
It was Gobert’s mother, Corrine, who first introduced him to boxing in Saint-Quentin, France, around the age of 10. Gobert would spar with other kids locally for the next couple of years, but never fought in an official match once he decided to focus on hoops. With basketball now being his main source of income, Gobert would never risk boxing to jeopardize his NBA career.
However, Peña wouldn’t advise any of his peers to test him, either. You’ve been warned.
“I know a lot of people try to act like they want to try and intimidate Rudy, but if it came down to just handling business on the court, I’m going to put money on Rudy,” Peña said. “You can put Draymond Green out there and all those big centers out there. I guaranteed Rudy is not scared of anybody, and his athleticism for a guy at that size is definitely the best I’ve seen.”