By now, you have likely seen the video of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert jokingly touching the table and all of the microphones placed in front of him at a press conference on Monday.
Gobert is beloved in Utah, a star player who goes out of his way to mingle with fans and be cooperative with the media. This certainly was Gobert’s way of injecting humor when he was asked if he was apprehensive at all about contacting the coronavirus while tussling in the tight spaces of the NBA.
At first, everyone who was there laughed off the gesture, considering to be a light-hearted way of expressing he wasn’t concerned and no else should be, either.
But on Wednesday, the perspective changed when Gobert was identified as the first athlete in the four major professional sports in North America to test positive for the virus.
At that point, the smile left Gobert’s face. Not only was he concerned about his condition, but he realized his actions would now be reinterpreted and considered a vulgar joke about the a terrible situation.
So on Thursday, he issued an apology on his Instragram page.
“I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of concern and support over the last 24 hours. I have gone through so many emotions since learning about my diagnosis, mostly fear, anxiety and embarrassment.
“The first and most important thing is I would like to publicly apologize to the people that I might have endangered. At the time, I had no idea I was even infected. I was careless and make no excuse.
“I hope my story serves as a warning and causes everyone to take this seriously. I will do whatever I can to support using my experience as a way to educate others and prevent the spread of this virus,
“I am under great care and will fully recover. Thank you again for all your support. I encourage everyone to take all of the steps to stay safe and healthy. Love.”
Of course, what Gobert didn’t know until Friday was that one of his teammates, Donovan Mitchell, was also diagnosed with coronavirus.
Mitchell addressed the situation on his Instagram site.
“We are all learning more about the seriousness of this situation and hopefully people can continue to educate themselves and realize that they need to behave responsibly both for their own health and for the well-being of those around them,” Mitchell wrote.
The story turned on its side again once anonymous accusations began to fly that Gobert had acted irresponsibly in the Jazz locker room by touching his teammate’s equipment and making physical contact with them by high-fiving, etc.
We are positive Gobert wasn’t trying to act like a jerk at that press conference or put his teammates in any danger, even though the NBA had suggested using fist bumps as a way of personal greeting. How could he have known what was coming? He shouldn’t be held accountable.
But this much we do know: Gobert’s diagnosis was the event that set into motion the number of cancellations and postponements that has crippled the sports world.
The NBA was prepared to play without fans until the announcement of Gobert’s illness forced the cancellation of Utah’s game at Oklahoma City on Wednesday. Shortly thereafter, the NBA announced the indefinite suspension of its schedule.
On Friday, that was followed by similar actions from the NHL, MLB, MLS and the PGA Tour and the cancellation of the March Madness by the NCAA.
If not for Gobert’s diagnosis, who knows what would have ultimately become of sports in North America this year?
Now, not only does everyone associated with the Jazz organization need to be tested – and perhaps quarantined – but so does every opposing player and coach who has come in contact with him over the last two or three weeks.
“We are working closely with the CDC, Oklahoma and Utah state officials, and the NBA to monitor their health and determine the best path moving forward,” the Jazz said in a statement.
So far, no one from the Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons or Toronto Raptors have conveyed any symptoms. The Raptors, who played the Jazz on Monday, were getting their traveling party tested for COVID-19.
“We await those results,” the Raptors said in a statement. “Our players, coaches and traveling staff have all been advised to go into self-isolation for 14 days, which means minimizing contact in accordance with public health guidelines. Our team doctors remain in communication with infection control specialists and public health authorities, and we will continue to abide by their advice.”
The Celtics and Pistons both released statements saying players and staff will also self-isolate for now.
Like Magic Johnson and HIV, Gobert will always be associated with the impact of coronavirus on sports. And he’s too good a player and apparently too nice a guy to have that weight on his shoulders.