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On March 9, Rudy Gobert flippantly rubbed his hands on the media members’ microphones and recorders lying on the press room table. Two days later, the NBA announced the Utah Jazz center tested positive for the coronavirus. He became patient zero for the world of sports. His action, coupled with his diagnosis, he also became a pariah.

After being the face of the coronavirus for the NBA for the last four months, Gobert restarted the NBA season in fairy tale fashion, appropriately enough, at a place where dreams come true in Disney World. He opened the contest scoring the game’s first bucket and then concluded the matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans hitting the game-winning free throws. It was the close of one chapter and the beginning of another for the Jazz center and the NBA. 

Rudy Gobert’s microphone madness

In early March, with fewer than 1,000 total confirmed coronavirus cases reported in the United States, there was still much unclear about the disease. Masks and social distancing were not a common part of the lexicon. Despite the newness of the disease, experts warned of its dangers and offered suggestions on how to prevent its spread.

On March 9, at the conclusion of a press conference, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert seemingly made light of the ongoing virus by touching all the reporters’ microphones and recorders lying on the press room table. On its face, the move seemed childish and misguided. 

Gobert’s press conference behavior was viewed in a much different light two days later when the NBA announced he was the first athlete to test positive for the disease. Gobert’s diagnosis started a chain of events that included the NBA shutting down, which was subsequently followed by every other professional sports league in the U.S. and abroad halting their seasons. 

Gobert suffers physical and mental pain from coronavirus

Rudy Gobert’s diagnosis, paired with his behavior just a couple of days before, precipitated an avalanche of criticism from a variety of places including his own locker room and teammate, Donovan Mitchell, who tested positive just days later. Gobert’s video touching the microphones, appropriately enough, went viral. Fans weren’t happy. Some even sent death threats. 

Gobert, understandably, didn’t like the threats or the criticism from the outside. However, he was more concerned about the attacks coming from the inside as the virus consumed his body. Initially, he had symptoms similar to the common cold. His symptoms progressively worsened, and he lost his sense of taste and smell, and his toes started tingling. 

Unclear of the disease’s effects on his body, both long- and short-term, mentally overwhelmed the Utah center. The thought of enduring the illness and the criticism alone made it that much worse. Gobert’s mother Corrine, who would traditionally help and support her son, could not. She remained in France with international travel restrictions in place.

“The toughest part was that I was away from my mom. I didn’t want her to come over, because I didn’t know if I was still contagious or not. I still haven’t seen my mom since everything happened,” he told the Washington Post. It’s the longest mother and son have ever been apart in his life. 

Rudy Gobert’s redemption and fairytale finish

With all eyes on Orlando for the NBA restart, it seemed only fitting that the one player who was the face of the coronavirus for the NBA take part in the first game back. Rudy Gobert, however, wasn’t just part of the story; he was the story. 

In the opening seconds, as if Utah head coach Quin Snyder recognized the irony of it all, designed a play where the ball was delivered to his big man down on the low post. Gobert caught the ball, turned, and laid it in for the first two points of the game and restart of the NBA season. While that moment was impactful, it paled in comparison to what happened at the game’s conclusion.

With the game tied at 104 and less than 10 seconds remaining, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell drove hard to the basket, which drew a pair of Pelicans defenders. Mitchell deftly dropped the ball off to Gobert who went in for the dunk. He was fouled hard and went to the line for a pair of free throws.

Rudy Gobert, who is a 62 percent free-throw shooter, calmly stepped up to the line and drained both free throws. His were the final two points of the game as Utah held on for an exciting 106-104 victory. The win was symbolic on so many levels as it concluded a nightmarish four months for Gobert with a fairytale finish at a place where dreams come true.