It’s March 9, at the Vivint Smart Home Arena and a group of girls, parents, a staffer, a volunteer and two board members of Girls on The Run Utah watch a nailbiter between the Utah Jazz and Toronto Raptors. For International Women’s Day, for every shot he blocks, Rudy Gobert will donate $1,000.
After the game, the girls tour the arena. They venture down to courtside, taking in the magnetic aura of an empty arena. Gobert emerges from the tunnel in a white hoodie and black sweats, high-fiving the girls, commiserating and snapping selfies, before posing behind a human-sized check. Gobert’s foundation, Rudy’s Kids, reached out to Girls on the Run, who reached out to the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake and asked if any Native American children would be interested in attending.
The daughters of Samantha Eldridge, a Native American mother of two, were among the group that attended. “For many of these girls, they’re not ever going to have the opportunity to even go to a Jazz game. That was huge,” Eldridge, 40, said. “It was even more exciting that they were able to go to the bottom, to be on the court and meet a player. I know that they felt special.”
The next afternoon, Eldridge tweeted a picture of the girls and Gobert, captioned, “Huge thank you to @rudygobert27 @RudysFoundation for inviting the UICSL (Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake), Girls on the Run to the game last night! We appreciate Rudy taking time to meet the girls & for his generous donation to inspire the girls to continue to pursue their limitless potential. #NativeYouth #GoJazz.”
Two days later, the notifications started piling up.
At the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, the coronavirus collided with professional sports. Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. The game was canceled. Shortly after, the NBA season was suspended. Jazz teammates and staffers were trapped in the visitors’ locker room at the behest of the Oklahoma State Department of Health, which decided it was in the public interest to use 58 out of a supply of 100 daily tests on the Jazz’s traveling party. Neither the Jazz, Rudy Gobert nor his foundation responded to requests for comment. In the aftermath, Gobert pledged to donate $500,000 to Vivint Smart Home Arena part-time workers, as well as coronavirus relief efforts in Utah, Oklahoma City and his home country of France.