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Dedication and little bit of crazy: How Rudy Gay has stayed relevant after 15 years

Rudy Gay high-fives fans
Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gay (8) is congratulated by fans after the game against Toronto Raptors at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. Gay hit five 3-pointers and scored 20 points in his debut with the Jazz.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

After making his debut with the Utah Jazz, leading the team to a win over the Toronto Raptors on Thursday night, Rudy Gay ran a mile.

Gay hadn’t played in a game since May 16. This is his 16th season in the NBA and after playing for 18 minutes, 27 seconds, and scoring a team-high 20 points for the Jazz, he needed to do more. So, on a treadmill in a workout room in the bowels of Vivint Arena, Gay ran.

Why? Because he knows he can do more, and he felt his stamina waning in his final minutes on the court.

“It’s tough playing up here in the elevation,” Gay said after the game. “I think it was more nerves than anything.”

Even if it was the nerves, of playing in his first game in a Jazz uniform, Gay didn’t want to leave anything to chance. He knows what he is capable of so he decided that some extra conditioning was needed.

Throughout his time in Utah, rehabbing from offseason surgery on his right heel, Gay has never wavered in believing that he can make the Jazz better. He’s so steadfast in that belief because 15 years in the NBA have shown him that belief in himself as a basketball player, paired with hard work and a willingness to adapt, can carry him through anything.

He came back from a fully torn Achilles, has played on multiple teams, for multiple coaches, with countless teammates and has been beloved and successful at every juncture. According to Gay, to make the key is to be confident, dedicated and a little crazy.

“I’m gonna be honest, this is this is one toughest offseasons and start to a season that I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “I’m 35 years old, coming off of foot surgery, basically had to teach myself how to walk again, again. ... It takes a lot of dedication. You’ve got to be a little crazy, without injuries, to play in a league this long and to be able to stay here and be able to chase around 19-year-olds, to be able to play for different coaches, in different locker rooms. You’ve got to be a little different. And I’m a little different.”

His Jazz teammates and head coach Quin Snyder say that it feels like they’ve known Gay longer than the few months he has been with the team. He’s integrated himself and stayed engaged, even though he hasn’t been able to practice with the team until recently.

The Jazz moved exercise equipment to the sidelines of their practice court so that even when Gay was just running while the others were scrimmaging, he could watch and ask questions and give input.

After every practice Gay and Joe Ingles shoot together on at the same basket and, as the elder statesmen of the team, have bonded despite Gay not being able to play in games.

“It’s it’s obviously been a bit of a build-up for us because we’ve watched him and seen him for years and played against him for years,” Ingles said. “He’s a hell of a player.”

Gay brings a lot of versatility to the Jazz. He’s 6-foot-8 and can switch onto smaller players, has length and strength to guard bigger guys, he can play multiple positions, can shoot the ball (evidenced by his 5-of-6 made 3-pointers on Thursday), he’s a good passer, he’s good off the dribble, off the catch, and he’s smart.

But, more than anything, Gay is willing to grow into whatever his role with the Jazz calls for. He’s dedicated to making this Jazz team better, he’s confident that he can, and just crazy enough to see it through.