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Jazz Understand Historical Importance Of Playing In NBA’s First Game Back

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz will be at the epicenter of a historical moment when they retake the floor against the New Orleans Pelicans Thursday night. The meeting will mark the first official NBA game since the league was suspended on March 11 after Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 before taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder. While the world battled the coronavirus pandemic, protests supporting social justice spread across the United States after the killing of George Floyd. On the verge of making history, the Jazz say they understand the enormous gravity of the situation.

Gobert and All-Star Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell were the first two NBA players to publically test positive for the virus. After Floyd was killed in police custody on May 25, both players, along with head coach Quin Snyder were outspoken advocates for change from the country’s status quo.

Snyder said the irony of being at the center of the NBA’s suspension, and now its return is not lost on the team.

“It’s something that our guys are aware of,” Snyder said. “The last time we took the court, that was obviously the game was canceled. I think there has been a strong belief within our team that this is something, ultimately, as difficult as it was over a period of weeks and months, that has become a unifying experience.”

The Jazz first reunited in Salt Lake City on June 25 before traveling to Orlando to enter the NBA’s campus on July 7.

Jazz Understanding the Significance of the First Game

While the matchup represents just one meeting in a series of eight seeding games before beginning the playoffs, Snyder said he belies the Jazz recognize their role at the center of the NBA’s hiatus.

“I think it’ll be something that we’ll look back on. Not only you know our game in Oklahoma City and being in the locker room but all the things that came with that,” Snyder said. “Then the opportunity to be a part of the first game upon return. I do think retrospectively that we’ll look back and understand that there’s a significance there.”

Similarly, Gobert said he appreciates the work the NBA has done to provide a safe outlet for the games to continue.

“This was a pandemic,” Gobert said. “Sports got shut down. People lost family members or their lives. And now the NBA put something together so we can come back and play in a safe environment. I think we are very excited to be back on the court at the highest level.”

Mitchell on Role in Racial History

While Gobert and Snyder continue to face questions about the pandemic that shut down American professional sports, Mitchell has been steadfast in his call for social change.

The All-Star guard said he appreciates the importance of sports on American culture but is more focused on his legacy regarding race justice.

“When I become old and I retire, I want my kids and my grandkids, everybody in my family to know this is what I stood for,” Mitchell said. “I stand for something and it’s bigger than just playing basketball and making money.”

Mitchell will wear the phrase “Say Her Name” on the back of his jersey beginning Thursday night to honor Breonna Taylor who was killed by police on March 13.

“To be African Americans on this platform that we have, to be able to speak to people who don’t have voices, I think it’s truly going to be monumental,” Mitchell said about appearing with the Jazz in the first game. 

“When you feel very passionate about something and combine that with something you love doing, I think it makes it very easy to go out there and speak on the matters at hand. And I’m not going to stop doing that. Because, at the end of the day, basketball is great, being able to get paid for this is great. But all the money in the world can’t change the fact that I’m an African American male in this world.”

The Jazz and Pelicans tip-off at 4;30 pm MT. The game will be broadcast on TNT and AT&T SportsNet.