For the next four weeks, two versions of Rudy Gobert will exist. The first is the real Gobert, sidelined and suited up as a result of a right tibia contusion. Gobert will miss at least four weeks after a collision with Heat guard Dion Waiters during Friday’s loss to Miami, Utah announced in a statement Sunday. Gobert, the team said, will be reevaluated after a month.
The other Rudy will exist only in a video replay of that third-quarter incident, which the Jazz center later referred to as a “dirty” play by Waiters. The shot will be looped whenever Gobert’s name or injury status is mentioned. “Was it, in your opinion, dirty?” Marv Albert will ask Reggie Miller during the fourth quarter of Houston’s blowout of the Suns this Thursday.
NOOOOOOOOO!!!! Rudy Gobert taken off the court as Dion Waiters runs into Rudy Gobert's knee. pic.twitter.com/kxFRyQkxmj— Dave Noriega (@davenoriega) November 11, 2017
The accusation was first levied by Gobert just hours after Waiters barrelled toward the 7-footer’s leg in pursuit of a loose ball in the paint.
“It feels better than it looked in the video,” Gobert, who returned to play in the fourth quarter, told reporters afterward. “I think it was a dirty play.” Later that night, Gobert reiterated his thoughts on Twitter, captioning a post of the video with a sarcastic “Dove for the ball right...”
On Sunday, Waiters said that Gobert needed to “get out of his feelings” and that it was not intentional. “I’ve never been a dirty player in my life,” Waiters said. “I didn’t even know that was him. I went for the ball, making a basketball play. He [goes] right to social media. I ain’t a social media guy.” (For what it’s worth, Waiters does own a verified Twitter account that hasn’t posted since August 17.)
The 25-year-old Heat guard doesn’t carry a reputation for foul play on the level of Zaza Pachulia or Draymond Green, but is pesky in the same manner as Lance “blew in another man’s face during the playoffs” Stephenson. Over seven seasons, Waiters has amassed 22 technicals but just one flagrant foul. His mouth is ruinous, for sure; the rest of the body, not so much.
Waiters’s lone career flagrant (which also became his first ejection) happened last January, in a loss to the Clippers. As J.J. Redick boxed out for a defensive rebound, Waiters thrust his elbow to the back of Redick’s head. There is not the same gray area here that exists with Gobert’s injury.
Despite the evidence, Waiters called the headshot unintentional.
"That was a terrible call," he said. "It wasn’t like I did it on purpose. I was trying to box out. It just so happens that he moved.” (Which, OK, let’s be real: Waiters was not going to grab an offensive board.) Redick—who was not injured as a result—also seemed relatively unbothered after the game, ending his explanation of what happened with “I’m not sure if it was intentional or not. He said it wasn’t intentional.”
The prior season, in Game 2 of the second-round playoff matchup between the Thunder and Spurs, Waiters had also lost momentary control of his elbow. As the count expired on the last inbound of the game, Waiters, positioned out of bounds, jutted an elbow to Manu Ginobili’s chest.
The threshold for a “dirty player” is far higher than a questionable fall and two flung elbows, but, as opposed to the situations with Redick and Waiters, the impact on Gobert, and thus his team’s results, is of far greater consequence.