NBA star Rudy Gobert ready for new adventure with Minnesota Timberwolves: “Change is exciting”

In an exclusive interview with Olympics.com the Frenchman, who won silver at the Tokyo 2020, spoke about his departure from the Utah Jazz, his new team-mates and why he is already relishing his future with Minnesota.

5 min By Chloe Merrell
Rudy Gobert with the silver medal at Tokyo 2020
(Picture by 2021 Getty Images)

Blockbuster. Gamble. High stake.

When it was announced that National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Rudy Gobert was being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves from the Utah Jazz, anticipation rippled across the world’s best basketball’s league.

But of those most animated by the deal, no one is perhaps more elated than Gobert himself:

“The change is exciting,” the 30-year-old Frenchman told Olympics.com in an exclusive interview discussing his move.

“The challenge is exciting. The team that we're going to have is exciting. Getting into a new environment, new city, is exciting. I am really trying to embrace that opportunity.”

As a three-time NBA defensive player of the year, and with six selections to the all-defensive first team, the Minnesotan franchise have in Gobert one of the best defenders in the league; prolific for his ability to protect the rim.

And the Wolves paid a particularly steep price for the man known as the “Stifle Tower.”

Gobert leaves the Jazz in exchange for four first-round picks between 2023-2029, a first-round pick from this year’s Draft in Walker Kessler, 34-year-old Patrick Beverely, sharpshooter Malik Beasley and two other players.

That the man from Saint-Quentin went for so many valuable assets is a nod to the future Gobert’s new team see for him. And though in the NBA not all players respond positively to being traded, the centre insists on his autonomy in the process:

“Playing your whole career on the same team is amazing, you know, it's a great accomplishment. But at the same time, getting to get into a new challenge and a new environment is also exciting.

“I chose the timing, you know, I chose my timing and the timing of my journey. And I think the timing was perfect for me to be an even better Rudy on and off the court.”

Rudy Gobert: ‘Once a Jazzman, always a Jazzman’

When the news dropped that the Utah Jazz were bidding farewell to their cornerstone player, the team from the west prepared an emotional goodbye video.

Clips of some of Gobert's biggest rejections, blocks and shots flashed on screen in an ode to the Frenchman’s eight years of servitude at the club.

But as much as his time in the number 27 jersey for the Jazz will be remembered with fondness by Gobert, the community he discovered away from the floor also has its special place:

“I'm really, really grateful for those nine years. I went from a young - I would say boy - but I went for young man to a man. And I grew a lot on the court, obviously, but especially off the court.”

Gobert is known to have frequently made charitable contributions to those in need. As well as tending to his own charity 'Rudy's Kids,' at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he reportedly handed over $500,000 to support the employee relief fund at Vivint Smart Home Arena where the Jazz play their home games.

The gesture hinting at his commitment to those outside the field of play.

“I've met some amazing people,” reflected the Tokyo 2020 silver medallist. “I'm always going to cherish those relationships. And now, I think that the new challenge is really about utilising those years that I've had in Utah; those great experiences that I had.

“And that will live forever: all those years and all those great memories.”

Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns: Two big men in the Twin Cities aiming for an NBA championship

Just how well Gobert will fit into the Timberwolves project for the next few years is the question now on everyone’s lips.

The intentions of the Minneapolis-based outfit for the Frenchman are certainly clear: they want him to lift them to an NBA championship.

The logic is that by bringing together Karl-Anthony Towns (2.11m) and Gobert (2.16m) the Wolves will not only have two All-Stars but also two of the best centres running side-by-side.

And with Towns’ offensive prowess alongside Gobert’s unique depth in defence they’re hoping they’ve manufactured the perfect match.

But as much as the emphasis will be on the ‘Twin Towers’ now, there is also the hope that Gobert will help lead the next generation coming through, including budding talents like Anthony Edwards.

For that role in particular, the Frenchman is keen to get to task:

“People know what I bring to the table as a player, but [I want to] make all these guys better, offensively and defensively and bring my experience to these young guys and have them grow as players and also as men.

“I think this team, [I am] the last thing that they needed.

“I think in terms of talent, they have a lot of talent and we've seen that last season. But being able to build some great habits from the beginning of the season and winning habits, I think is what is going to hopefully going to take this team to where they belong, which is, you know, top of the west.

“And, I think, hopefully playing for something that's much bigger.”

The man masterminding the Wolves' bid for ascension will be Chris Finch. Known for his creativity, the former Team GB basketball coach has already expressed his confidence in his new-look team.

On his relationship with coach Finch Gobert expressed his admiration for the way he sees basketball:

“I really love his philosophy. I love the way he thinks. And, also, I love the way he thinks about the game."

Like a scientist in a laboratory Finch will be backing his latest experiment to bring out the best results. And as the rest of the NBA eagerly awaits to see how it all unfolds for the Timberwolves, the towering man from France can't wait to get started on his new responsibilities:

“It's exciting for me to be able to be put in the position where we really want to maximise my potential and trust me in a way that I think I'm really going to, not just help myself be the best I can be, but really help the team to win.”

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