National Basketball Association
Rudy Gobert responds to criticism over missed playoff game for child's birth
National Basketball Association

Rudy Gobert responds to criticism over missed playoff game for child's birth

Updated May. 31, 2024 2:59 p.m. ET

Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert has shouldered a lot of criticism this postseason.

In the second round, the Defensive Player of the Year was regularly dragged through the mud for not being able to slow down three-time MVP Nikola Jokic. In the Western Conference finals, he was endlessly mocked for failing to adequately contest Luka Doncic's game-winning 3-pointer over him in Game 2. And throughout the entire playoffs, TNT analyst Draymond Green has seemingly made a competitive sport of poking fun at him. 

Gobert has gotten used to being the butt of jokes over the last few months. But now, with his Timberwolves facing elimination as they trail the Dallas Mavericks 3-0 in the penultimate round, he acknowledges one narrative has bothered him.

Criticism of his play? That's fair. But attacking him for missing a playoff game to attend his firstborn child's birth? That's another thing altogether. 


"This is one thing I decided I was never going to miss in my life," Gobert told FOX Sports. "I love this game. I dedicated my whole life to this game. But this is one thing that is above that. And that's being there for the birth of my child. I think everyone in this locker room understands that."

After Gobert missed Game 2 of Minnesota's second-round series against Denver, a couple of players expressed their disapproval, despite the Timberwolves pulling off a 106-80 win. Among his most vocal detractors was former NBA All-Star Gilbert Arenas, an 11-year veteran who has five children. 

On his podcast, "Gil's Arena," he caused a firestorm by saying: "It's a baby, bro, it's going to be there when you get back, we hope. I'm just saying, the baby, whatever you think you about to do, he going to be asleep." 

Gobert didn't flinch. 

"I think everyone is allowed to have an opinion," Gobert told FOX Sports. "I think everyone's definition of fatherhood is different. At the end of the day, I'll do what I think is best for my family and for me."

In an interview with FOX Sports, Arenas clarified that what surprised him was that Gobert missed a playoff game after his child was born, which he says broke an unwritten NBA rule. 

According to Arenas, NBA players abide by a tacit contract: Attending their child's birth? Acceptable. But missing a game before or after the baby enters the world? Verboten. (Gobert's child was born Monday morning in Minneapolis, and Game 2 was later that evening in Denver.)

"I found out the child was born at 5, 6, 7 in the morning — you're there, he's healthy, there's nothing else you can do in the hospital," Arenas said. "So, why didn't you go to the game? It was something I had never heard of. In my mind, it was considered lazy ... I'm saying he's supposed to do both. He's getting paid $41 million to be there. And that's his job first."

Other factors apparently played a role in Gobert missing Game 2 of that series, with Timberwolves coach Chris Finch saying both timing and weather "made it really tough." (Multiple flights to Denver were delayed that day because of high winds.) Gobert apparently really tried to make it work. 

But Arenas believes he could've figured something out if he had wanted. Arenas said he once flew 30 hours within a few days to make sure he attended one of his child's births, going cross-country multiple times so he didn't miss any games. 

Arenas was widely slammed on the internet for his comments about Gobert. One X user wrote, "Being a great father is so much more important than one NBA playoff game." Another wrote, "Imagine hating on a dude because he wants to be a good father."

But a few current and former NBA players echoed Arenas' sentiments.

Said Green on his podcast, "The Draymond Green Show:" "I just felt like — I'm a father of four. I love my kids and I love my wife. But she's going to have to hold off for me just a few more hours for a playoff game."

Meanwhile, both Mark Jackson and Kenyon Martin backed Arenas while appearing on his podcast.

Jackson, a former NBA player and coach, said he understood both sides, but added, "Me, myself, having four kids. I think I would've played in the game and taken a private jet to Minnesota and witnessed either the birth or get there right after the birth, understanding that we worked 82 games and my entire life for an opportunity to get to the Finals."

Retired NBA player Martin agreed, saying that he didn't even miss a game after his son was born more than two months premature in March 2005. Martin attended the birth, then went back to work. "My recollection, I ain't miss no game," he said, adding that his child was so small he fit into his hand and had tubes attached to him. "... Was I distraught? Absolutely. Got a job to do."

Gobert is hardly the first player to miss a playoff game because of family.

Among the more famous examples was when Derek Fisher didn't attend Game 1 of the second round of the 2007 playoffs following his daughter's cancer diagnosis in her left retina. But famously, he more than made up for that in Game 2, attending his daughter's chemotherapy procedure in an artery leading to her eye the morning of the contest, and then taking the team's private jet back to Utah, arriving in time to play in the third quarter.

Gobert's own teammate, Mike Conley, also missed multiple playoff games for the Jazz after leaving the NBA Bubble in Orlando to attend his child's birth in August 2020 in Columbus, Ohio. 

But for some reason, Gobert seems to be taking heat, while those other players were met with understanding.

Arenas said he would've criticized any player for missing a playoff game they could've potentially attended. But he acknowledged there's something about the four-time Defensive Player of the Year that peeves his contemporaries. In fact, according to a player poll by The Athletic, Gobert is the most overrated player in the league.

"I don't know why Rudy irritates people," Arenas said. "It's probably his goofiness, I guess. I have no idea. I don't think anyone can pinpoint it."

Arenas said he was so shocked that Gobert missed Game 2 that he called his former teammates, asking if they'd ever seen anything like that. He even called some players' wives. 

"I talked to Shaunie O'Neal," Arenas said of Shaquille O'Neal's former wife. "She was like, 'Yeah, what the hell is he going to do while I'm in the hospital? Shaq came after the games, said hello, did this, and left.'"

Arenas believes that with the money NBA players make, there's no excuse to miss games. Players can afford private jets and police escorts. And even though the Timberwolves publicly supported Gobert missing the game, Arenas claims he heard otherwise. "I got word from some of the guys on the team that they wasn't happy he wasn't there."

Right or wrong, Arenas said prioritizing team over family is expected in the NBA.

"You know what it really is?" Arenas asked. "It's like a deep-down thing for most players. This dream of being a player started when we were a kid, 9, 8, 7, so this is our real life. Whatever woman we met, we met them on the journey to whatever our dream was. The dream usually always came first. We're around our teammates more than our actual family. So, the team is the actual family. And the wife and kids or girlfriend and kids is actually secondary."

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As for Gobert, being a father is something he has always greatly anticipated, even if the timing happened to conflict with the Timberwolves' greatest playoff run in 20 years.

He doesn't regret how anything played out.

"It's a lot of blessings," Gobert told FOX Sports. "It's a lot of things happening. But I'm just in the moment. I'm grateful that my girl is just allowing me to get my sleep ... So I'm just taking it one day at a time and just focused on achieving my dreams. Achieving my goal of winning a championship and also living another dream, which is being a father."

Everything considered, things could've been much trickier for Gobert. When given a hypothetical, he cringed and smiled. Would he have missed Game 7 of the NBA Finals?

"I don't know about what-ifs," Gobert told FOX Sports. "I just deal with what happens. It's not, so that's good."

For now, Gobert is focused on trying to help the Timberwolves become the first team in NBA history to recover from a 3-0 series deficit, a daunting task considering the record for teams in that hole is skewed against them 154-0.

If people want to give him flak for missing a playoff game while he was with his wife and newborn son, so be it. He's used to the negative chatter, even if on this topic, he takes exception.

"Other people's opinion, I could care less, to be honest," he said. "Everyone's got a different definition of what being a father is."

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.


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