The Minnesota Timberwolves paid Rudy Gobert $41 million to play basketball this season, more than any other player on their roster. But when the Timberwolves faced off against the Denver Nuggets for Game 2 of their playoff series in Denver, Gobert wasn’t on the floor. In fact, he wasn’t even in the state. Gobert was back in Minnesota to witness the birth of his first child.

Gobert and his fiancée, Julia Bonilla, announced they were expecting a baby in February. In a conversation with the Deseret News the next month, Gobert described his feelings, “It’s amazing. It’s a blessing. It is something that I’ve always wanted in my life.”

He also made it clear that he wanted to be present at the birth of their child: “I would do anything I can to be there. I don’t think there’s any debate to have. ... And I think all the guys will be literally telling me, ‘Don’t play, go.’”

Gobert is not the first NBA player to miss playing time to be present at the birth of a child. Earlier this season, Gobert’s teammate Anthony Edwards left a game at halftime to be present when his child was born. And during the 2020 season, Mike Conley of the Utah Jazz left the NBA COVID-19 bubble to be with his wife when their son was born (Gobert gave him a shout-out on Twitter).

Though not the first, Gobert’s absence on the floor had the potential to be the most consequential. Gobert is the best defensive player of his generation, recently winning his fourth Defensive Player of the Year award (tied for the most such awards in NBA history). The Timberwolves also mortgaged away much of their future, trading five players and five future draft picks, to acquire Gobert from the Jazz in 2022. Further, the Timberwolves arguably made this questionable trade precisely to be able to defeat Nicola Jokić and the Nuggets in the playoffs.

The moment had come, and the gamble seemed to be paying off. The Timberwolves stole Game 1 from the defending champions on the road. Another road win in Game 2 would make it extremely likely that the Timberwolves would win the series.

It turns out that the Timberwolves did just fine in Game 2 without Gobert, soundly defeating the Nuggets 106-80. But no one, including Gobert, could have known that would happen beforehand. Gobert deserves credit for prioritizing his family even when there could have been a substantial cost for doing so.

Others have criticized him for the decision, but we think it’s something to celebrate. You might think that fathers being present at the birth of their children is a relatively small detail, but research in family studies has actually demonstrated that fathers, mothers and children all benefit when dad is present at birth. Starting in the 1960s, men began attending the births of their children at higher rates. Now, some social scientists report that more than 90% of men attend their child’s birth in developed countries.

Studies show that fathers who are present at their baby’s birth offer more care in infancy and play more with their children through early childhood. Since play is one of the most important ways young children develop, attending the birth of one’s baby sets the stage for many future meaningful interactions between a father and child. And the research suggests that these benefits extend across childhood into adolescence. For example, positive father involvement has been associated with infant attachment security, toddler ability to regulate negative emotions, reduced behavior problems into middle childhood and improved school achievement in the teen years.

Women benefit too. Women’s relationship quality increases when their partners are more actively engaged in parenting, especially when women believe their partners are creating quality bonds with their children.

Even fathers benefit. Fathers who stay connected with their children say that becoming fathers has improved their lives, enhanced their jobs, reduced job strains and strengthened intergenerational connections. Recent Pew data suggest that 85% of U.S. fathers “say being a parent is the most (24%) or one of the most (61%) important aspects of who they are as a person.” In summary, good fathering is good for everyone.

It makes sense, then, that many men are looking for ways to be more involved in their children’s lives. A growing group of men are looking for jobs with paternity leave and flexible work schedules so they can be more engaged than they have been in the past. Credit should go to both the Timberwolves for letting Gobert leave at this critical time and to Gobert who modeled for basketball-obsessed fans everywhere his prioritization of something over winning: his family.

It’s worth pointing out that Gobert’s nemesis in this current playoff series, Nikola Jokić, has sent a similarly clear message to fans all around the world. Jokić has a 2-year-old daughter named Ognjena, and the three-time MVP has said that “being a father means that you don’t play just for yourself” and that “basketball is not the main thing in my life, and is probably never going to be. And to be honest, I like it, because I have something at home that is more important than basketball.”

Of course, parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. Being present for the birth of one’s child is just one step, but it seems to be an important step in establishing a quality relationship between father and child. Whatever the outcome of this playoff series, Rudy Gobert wins for putting his family first.

Daniel Frost is the director of public scholarship in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University. He also serves as editor-in-chief of Public Square Magazine. Erin Holmes is a professor and director of the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University. She studies fatherhood, motherhood, and the work-family interface.