The Utah Jazz may have significant trouble getting past the Western Conference 1st Round this week against the Houston Rockets. The combination of James Harden, Chris Paul and a full complement of players wanting desperately to reach the NBA Finals after last year will probably be too much.
One thing to bet on, though: Rudy Gobert is going to block a lot of shots along the way. The 7-foot-1 Frenchman swats 2.3 blocks a game to go with his 15-point and 12-rebound averages.
Gobert comes from Saint-Quentin, a small French town in the Hauts-de-France region to the North. Aaron Falk from the team website described the village when Gobert visited there last summer.
The black Mercedes van cruised through the streets of the sleepy town, over brick and stone, toward the outskirts where the highway cuts against golden fields and intersects with Rue Raoul Huguet. When the driver finally stopped in front of a drab government housing project—six stories tall, a block of glass and concrete—the long leg of the town’s most famous son emerged from the vehicle.
“It’s for people who don’t have a lot of money,” Rudy Gobert said. “I grew up here. Some of my friends had big houses, some didn’t. But I was really happy here. I wouldn’t trade it.”
It was these humble roots that Gobert was born on June 26, 1992. His parents are his mother Corinne, who is white, and his father Rudy Bourgarel, a black former basketball player at Marist University in Poughskeepie (N.Y.). Rudy was asked by The Undefeated if he felt racism growing up, but his bi-racial upbringing blocked a lot of that.
“There was always a little bit, but I never really paid attention to it,” he said. “It was just showing me that someone was more stupid than anything. My mom is white. My dad is black. So, for me, I’ve never felt [racism] in my heart. I’m about cultures. I don’t want to say you shouldn’t pay attention to it, what’s going on. But at the same time, you don’t want it to be a burden. Be proud of what you are and be positive.”
Not a lot of images are out there of Bourgarel, but he’s actually in the Eddie Murphy comedy “Coming to America.” While playing at Marist, he was part of the scene that involved Murphy’s character Prince Azeem attending a game against St. John’s. Bourgarel is the player in red dunking the basketball split seconds after the white player does (0:01 of this clip).
His dad played extensively in Europe, but never made the NBA. Rudy said that “of course, it’s special” that he fulfilled the professional dreams of his father.
While he plays in the heartland of America in Salt Lake City, there’s no doubt where Rudy’s allegiances lie. This past summer when the French national team made the World Cup final (and won), he expressed his amazement.
“I’m excited for my country,” Gobert said to the Las Vegas Journal-Review. “It’s been a few years since we got this opportunity. I’m just very excited and going back to France Thursday, and hopefully we can win Sunday and celebrate.”
When France topped Croatia in the final, Gobert was watching with several students in a Saint-Quentin school, exploding when the victory was final.
As he and his countrymen would say: “Allez les Bleus!”