Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert is among the NBA leaders in a surprising category: avoiding injury

After suffering two knee injuries in 2017-18, the big man All-Star took extra precautions to stay on the pitch

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) and Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33) were both knocked to the ground, seconds before Turner slammed into Gobert in sparking a brawl between the two centers, resulting in the ejections of Gobert, Turner, Donovan MItchell and Joe Ingles, in the 4th quarter, during NBA action between Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers at Vivint Arena on Thursday, November 11, 2021.

Rudy Gobert’s knees tilt in opposite directions but still move up towards his chest as he tries to get comfortable in a fan’s chair at the edge of the court – not designed for 7-footers.

“These little guys love to run in your knees, like dive in your knees,” the Utah Jazz Center says as the morning’s shoot draws to a close.

Donovan Mitchell is a few seats away and overhears the conversation.

“Hey, who’s little?” Who are the little guys? Mitchell asks, in his most bombastic and problematic tone of voice.

“Little guys like Donovan,” Gobert replies sarcastically.

While Mitchell isn’t the culprit Gobert really thinks about, he’s right – for someone as tall and tall as the 7-foot-1 Frenchman, almost everyone is a short guy. And that means their center of balance, especially when diving for loose balls or trying to box, can pose a threat to Gobert’s long legs: a lot of force, directed horizontally, on a part of the body that isn’t. is not supposed to resist the horizontal Force.

Four seasons ago it looked like an issue that could have ruined Gobert’s career. Just as the Jazz began their first season without Gordon Hayward, as Heat keeper Dion Waiters dove for a loose ball, he cut Gobert just at the knee.

Gobert was extremely frustrated – to the point where he essentially accused the servers of diving to his knees rather than diving for the loose ball. The Jazz called on the league to investigate the game, which responded that the servers should have been called in for a foul, but not flagrant, on the game. Meanwhile, Waiters felt he had to respond to the game. Gobert characterization: “I’ve never been a dirty gamer in my life,” Waiters told South Florida. Sun Sentinel. “I went to get the ball. Tell him to get out of his feelings.

Gobert was out for three weeks, but as if to illustrate once again the danger – as well as the wide variety of players who can be considered little beside the center of Jazz, Derrick Favors rolled under Gobert’s legs during a game against Boston.

This caused a grade 1 PCL sprain and Gobert missed another month.

But what could have been a recurring nightmare for Gobert and Jazz did not become one.

In fact, since returning from those injuries in the 2017-18 season, he has played in 316 of the 322 games the Jazz have played, missing three of those games as the team decided to let him rest in the bubble. or at the end of a season. . It’s a remarkable statistic, but it’s true: In the past four seasons, only one player has started more NBA games than Rudy Gobert: Denver MVP Nikola Jokic.

After suffering both of these knee injuries, Gobert began to wear a knee brace, especially while the ligaments were still healing. Even more than four years later, he still wears the corset.

“I can’t afford to love missing a month because someone decided to dive into my lap. These are just protective measures, ”Gobert said. He proudly cited Tim Duncan as another center who has worn a knee brace throughout his career, although there have certainly been others.

The corset isn’t the only thing Gobert has done to protect himself. He also worked to strengthen the muscles around these ligaments, in a program led by strength trainer Fabrice Gautier. In fact, Gobert was one of the first athletes to use a tool that is now popular in the NBA: a yoga pillow called Waff pads. Essentially, the athletes stand on the air-filled pillows and try to maintain balance.

Now, technique and pillows in sizes big and small can be seen all over the NBA locker rooms. LeBron James is the most famous convert. Pillows can provide immediate feedback on where an athlete might stand to be more balanced on the court – and more balance can lead to the ability to make more shifting games.

“He has a very specific routine that he has developed over time,” said Jazz head coach Quin Snyder. “What he does in the weight room, there are a lot of times you see him out there after training, just very methodically going through the things he knows he has to do. . “

It also means that it is easier for Gobert to avoid these injuries; sometimes it can deviate. In fact, Gobert’s record has been near perfect since the two back-to-back injuries cited above. “Sometimes we had to save him from himself or there was an opportunity for him to take a game, but that doesn’t happen very often,” Snyder said.

“From his size and the way he’s built, you know, you’d expect him to be more susceptible on some level, and it’s the exact opposite,” Snyder added.

Count it as a victory for the grown-ups.

Ada J. Kenney