On Thursday night, Rudy Gobert went to sleep at home, in Salt Lake City.
On Friday night, he will play at Vivint Arena, as he has hundreds of times before, but this time he’ll enter the court from the visitor’s locker room, a place he’d never been before Friday morning.
“There’s a brand new court and the visiting locker room is nice too,” Gobert said with a smile after the Minnesota Timberwolves finished up their morning shootaround ahead of Friday night’s game against the Utah Jazz. “It’s fun to be back.”
Gobert loves Utah. That’s not past tense.
He hasn’t sold his house, his foundation, Rudy’s Kids, is still up and running, he still stays in contact with teammates, coaches, staffers and friends from Utah. Gobert went from being a 19-year-old draft prospect who was going to be a developmental project, to a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and three-time All-Star with the Jazz.
“I spent nine years of my life, basically a third of my life here, so it definitely feels like home,” Gobert said. “Just driving downtown there’s a lot of memories that pop up, from my early years to the last few years, and what we’d been able to accomplish as a team. And, of course, the relationship that I’ve built off the court, which to me means more than any type of sports accomplishment. And the work in the community; that’s what I’m really proud of.”
Gobert has been looking forward to Dec. 9 since the schedule was released. Despite it being the first game of a back-to-back for the Timberwolves, who will fly directly to Portland following Friday’s game, Gobert’s mother is even in town for her son’s return to Utah.
Sitting together in Gobert’s house on Thursday night, the two talked about how strange it is to be back in Utah but for it to just be one night and to be there as a member of the opposing team. It’s strange for Gobert to have morning shootaround at Vivint Arena. Gobert is used to driving to the Jazz’s practice facility for the game-day shootaround. It’s strange to be in the visiting locker room and the visiting team interview room and to be wearing neon green.
“Everything is strange right now, I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “I’m just trying to embrace it, embrace every single moment. … It’s a lot to take in.”
During the first timeout of the first quarter on Friday night the Jazz will play a tribute video in the arena. Gobert expects that it will be emotional, but is trying his best to stay focused on the task at hand, which for him is winning a game for Minnesota.
Jazz Nation: we asked—you delivered! A few hundred of you submitted heartfelt messages to @rudygobert27, and we used each of them in this design. We surprised Rudy with this piece tonight ahead of his return to @vivintarena tomorrow night. #TakeNote @utahjazz @Timberwolves pic.twitter.com/mNGk9GsCLw— Vandy Creations (@vandy_creations) December 9, 2022
On Thursday night after the Timberwolves arrived in Utah, Gobert was surprised at his home with a gift from Vandy Creations, a Utah company that specializes in custom metal showpieces. The piece for Gobert consists of hundreds of messages of support and love from Jazz fans. Gobert has received similar messages from fans since he was traded in the offseason, and even so, he’s still not completely sure what the reaction will be when takes the court on Friday.
“I don’t know, I guess we’ll see,” he said. “From what I’ve seen on social media, hopefully, some good things. I don’t know how much they’re gonna cheer for me. But, regardless of what it is, it should be a cool feeling.”