Pray For The Rudy Gobert Haters

“The history of thought, of knowledge, of philosophy, of literature seems to be seeking, and discovering, more and more discontinuities, whereas history itself appears to be abandoning the irruption of events in favor of stable structures.”
—Michel Foucault

“Thats the new generations unfortunately, and i don’t blame them they are just a product of our society. Spreading hate because they are really not happy inside and its sad.”
—Rudy Gobert

The last time I wrote about the NBA I went out on a limb in support of perhaps the most maligned player in the NBA, Andrew Wiggins. To the shock of everyone Wiggins and Stephen Curry were the two best players on a championship team. Now I will try my luck again and write about a player even more maligned than Wiggins, Rudy Gobert.

Rudy Gobert is from France and as a result he is simply more enlightened than American fans who type in capital letters online about him being soft and overrated. But everywhere Gobert has gone he has won, and fans refuse to enjoy Gobert are losing out.

Macho sports fans seem to have a bias against handsome players. A good sports ball game often means neglecting women for hours. If you don’t at least appreciate the handsome men on the screen it seems like you are doomed.

When the Minnesota Timberwolves traded for Rudy Gobert even experts questioned the decision because the Timberwolves already had skilled big man Karl-Anthony Towns and Gobert was another big man in a league that appeared to be getting smaller, faster and more spaced out.

Perhaps I am being a homer but the best argument against Rudy Gobert is that the NBA has rigged the rules against strong defenders like Gobert in favor of mindless scoring. Much like food is needlessly pumped with sugar to give consumers a high the pressures of capitalism has gotten to the NBA. To actually see a well officiated game fans have to wait for the playoffs, when fans will be watching anyways.

In the regular season the NBA rewards players who dangerously lean into defenders. They especially like a player who stops quickly and creates contact. The sugar high of offense continues and the game gets bogged down by foul calls and long reviews. On offense players are allowed to hit Gobert anywhere, even in the face, and the intellectual Frenchman, perhaps the smartest player in the league, gets no pity. For a breakdown of Gobert’s subtle intellectualism on the court, watch the YouTube channel Howls and Growls.

This tension between American populism and French intellectualism has a long history and on this one I fully side with the French intellectuals. The left often celebrates the self-exploitation of the American working class in a crude attempt to meet people where they are at. But this is a cynical view of workers and anti-intellectualism is the same as anti-freedom. A worker who is not allowed to be an intellectual is a person who is unfree not only when they are on the clock, but also off of it.

Rudy Gobert is a good counter to the inefficiency and waste of American sprawl. Both American suburbs and perimeter shots are artificially subsidized but remain less efficient than city centers and shots at the rim. In the case of the NBA there is nothing wrong with an outside shot being worth more, because it gives the game more spacing and variety. But the three point shot is simply worth too much. It could be two and a half points, but making it three points throws off the math. Nor does having one line make sense. Why not have many arcs where points are worth 2.1, 2.2, etc. depending on how far out you go?

Nonetheless the shots at the rim remain a greater weapon despite being artificially devalued. The bet on Rudy Gobert is a bet on controlling the rim on both ends of the floor. On offense, Rudy Gobert hurts your spacing because he cannot shoot and is generally clumsy with the ball in his hands compared to smaller players who cannot be mangled in the same way by defenders. But the haters fail to realize that this obsession with spacing doesn’t consider where the defenders have to be.

If Rudy Gobert is on the floor teams are so afraid they always must have one player very close to him or else he will catch the ball and dunk it. Often a second player is there to hit him. Sure it would be better if the player had to be glued to Gobert far from the basket but even if this defender is close to the basket they cannot help off of Gobert or else he will catch a lob and dunk it. A sure two points is more efficient than a high percentage from three point range.

A three point shooter can be abandoned for help defense if they are on the other side of the floor. The rim, like the city center, is in the middle of the floor, and can never be abandoned and has close proximity to all the perimeter relative to the proximity of the perimeter to perimeter pass. The problem with each suburb is not only the distance from the city but also the distance between suburbs. Going from the city to the suburb is easier than going from suburb to suburb.

But Gobert’s real value comes on defense where when he is on the floor no team will dare shoot a shot at the rim. Teams become obsessed with the three point shot on both defense and offense but the truth is that the subsidies towards this shot and perimeter play generally make it impossible to guard, and therefore rather pointless to focus on.

The NFL faces a similar problem with subsidizing sprawl as corporations and anti-intellectuals love the big passing play. For the NFL this policy choice not only hurts the game but hurts player’s brains, repeating the cycle of anti-intellectualism. The NFL has taken out the most exciting and dangerous plays that happen on kickoffs and onside kicks because these plays, while infrequent, are the most dangerous. But don’t give them credit for this because the majority of the game is spent not with running plays between the tackles where players are moving slower and therefore are safer, but in the open field where players pick up speed on passing plays.

The United States is structured in a ridiculous way. At risk of being shot by fellow citizens and police officers, Americans are not entirely wrong to fear each other. But this is only in comparison to other countries. If we judge the situation without comparison, it is obvious we are better together than apart. Nor is it those at risk who flee the situation. It is often those who are not at risk who fear a change in their situation and have the capital to move.

But this only brings more inefficiency. The further people are spread out, the more it costs to maintain roads and other infrastructure. More fossil fuels are used and more climate chaos follows. Over time poverty comes to a place that cannot maintain itself and people flee again. Cities develop close to resources but the jockeying for the best position that goes on afterwards is more arbitrary and absurd.

The funny thing about the Rudy Gobert criticism is that many macho commentators call him soft or gay because he dresses well and is handsome. But no player is more physical or stronger than Gobert in the NBA. Unfortunately the attitude in the United States is to celebrate exploitation of the working class. The more we suffer the more we cheer. But when push comes to shove we aren’t strong enough to deal with adversity.

We could learn from Gobert. We could use our minds to empower our bodies rather than view the violence upon our bodies as a liberation of our minds. But this is a culture that punishes you for getting educated. It is a culture that responds to vulnerability with prisons and police. It is a culture that rewards private transportation in cars and makes sure we are scared of public spaces.

It is certainly not fair to say that France has more of a resistance than the United States. In the United States the response to resistance is so much more brutal we cannot compare. But my criticism simply is that the resistance cannot be celebrated or romanticized because it is more traumatizing and painful than it is rewarding, especially when we struggle individually rather than collectively.

Resistance is necessary, of course. And those with more freedom must resist more if we are to free the collective. But we should stop celebrating our toughness and resilience. It is very sad. Why not try to be happy? Why not admit that we are deeply unfree? The Black comedy American Fiction, based on a book by Percival Everett, addresses how white publishers only want to market books about Black suffering. The same mentality, albeit to a lesser extent based upon racist stereotypes, is applied to the American working class as a whole, or even to all Americans at times.

So perhaps on this New Year’s the resolution should not to be to make a resolution. Why ruin a holiday with a goal that reaffirms self-hatred? Until we stop hating ourselves, our hearts will not be open to others. We must liberate ourselves from our egos and our desire to be the hero. We must stop trying to survive and begin to ask what it means to live.

The apocalypse is not coming. The apocalypse is here. There are worse things than death. Living alone and estranged from reality is a far crueler fate than death. In 2024 we should not fear our neighbor. We should fear ourselves. What happens to us when we shut down and refuse to be vulnerable? What monster lies within each of us when we give up?

When we begin to believe in capitalism and stop believing in each other we lose. The NBA subsidizes those who represent the American ethos. Those who take the ball for themselves and use anger when the referees make a call against them. It punishes selfless players like Rudy Gobert who don’t need to score, who play hard on defense, who use subtle advantages such as screens and help-defense to make their teammates better without the world noticing. And yet Rudy Gobert is on top again in the NBA.

Will we learn from Rudy or will we continue to see valuing our minds, our emotions and our neighbors as a weakness? My hardcore stance on American populism has gotten pushback. At times I have not clarified my position well. We need to reject what is popular because popularity is vague. Connecting with other people on popular things is highly mediated and corporate at this point in capitalist development. Rather we should make real connections outside of this mediation based upon the local, communal and the sustainable.

I am engaging in self-criticism and of course I have compassion for all exploitation, especially self-exploitation and exploitation of the mind. I don’t think it is easy nor do I think Americans are uniquely immoral. I think we need unique compassion. We are uniquely miserable. We are uniquely poor in a spiritual sense. Our wounds are deep.

And the attempt to bring materialism into politics is always met with pushback in this country because we want to be in touch with our emotions, especially anger. We don’t want to see clearly because it is too painful to imagine freedom because we are too far from it. So when I say we can learn from intellectuals, rich, privileged intellectuals who aren’t doing enough for the American working class, what I am saying is not that these intellectuals are better people. They are probably worse. And they definitely understand the struggle less.

But there is no point in understanding the struggle. The point is to overcome it. The point is to be free. And we think that hating ourselves is the way to freedom. But we hate ourselves because we think that we aren’t good enough. We think we don’t deserve rights unless we do X,Y and Z. This kind of thinking leads to us thinking other people don’t deserve rights. This kind of thinking leads to us thinking we deserve things if we do what we are supposed to and resenting others that we see as undeserving.

This involves us submitting to exploitation and seeing this as a virtue. We must admit that we need help. We must admit that the United States is exceptional in only one way: we are uniquely miserable. We bring unique misery to others. We bring unique misery to ourselves. We don’t want to judge the enlightened for having better social programs, communities and thinkers. We demand that they help us liberate ourselves.

This is the moment to admit defeat. This is the moment when we realize that we have been doing it all wrong. To quote Bob Dylan, it is not dark yet, but it’s getting there. There is no epic moment where we die heroically. We simply are decaying day by day and growing more desperate and confused. Take a deep breath. Look around. What is left. What can be done? What actually matters?

The relentless effort to destroy society has in part been intentional. In part it is structural. No individual can overcome such conditions. All efforts to be unique, to be a superhero, to be twice as good and strong end with a humbling, crushing defeat. We are limited beings. We must forgive ourselves and each other. The greatest sin, the hardest to forgive, is our desire to stand apart, to overcome our own humanity, to overcome how we are created, our natural and flawed state. We want to cleanse society because we want to cleanse ourselves.

American “winners” will ask if we are tired of losing. We are tired of winning. And the key to real victory is to let go and admit defeat. The courage to do this will inspire others. Freedom begins here. The more one has to protect, whether that be possessions or sense of self, the more one has to lose, and therefore the less free one is.

Rudy Gobert may win his first championship with the Timberwolves this year because on his past team, the ironically named Utah Jazz, Rudy was seen as such a good defender that the team decided not to ask anyone else to play defense nor did it get any good defenders. As a result opposing players got tons of momentum at the rim and made it look like Rudy was bad at defense even though he won three defensive player of the year awards.

This Minnesota Timberwolves team is different. All players were acquired with the expectation that they were good at defense and that they must defend. Rudy Gobert had to let go of his ego as the best defender and admit that he too needed help. This new year is a new start in the sense that we admit over time we have only created barriers to freedom and all we have left is the word. A funny joke we play on ourselves and we can laugh when we say struggling and striving in the same sentence.

We pray not for Rudy Gobert, but for his haters. May they too begin to set screens and play help defense. May they too give up their desire to score. All haters of Rudy Gobert are baptized anew and welcomed onto the bandwagon. Things literally cannot get worse.

The end of the human race is close and inevitable. The birth of the human soul is even closer and even more inevitable. Our fear is stopping us from being free. But we fear what we can see. We fail to fear the death of our souls. We fail to see far enough ahead to the unbearable life. We hate every moment of joy because it reminds us we are repressing it.

Over time the forces of oppression consolidate into an even more powerful enforcement of unfreedom. And yet over time the human soul evolves, through its alienation from its free state, into a being who desires freedom more and more. It is impossible to deny this urge to be authentic. It is like denying yourself food or water. One can survive for a certain amount of time but not forever.

Such freedom appears impossible but it is less impossible to be free than to be unfree. One is a goal that may never be achieved. The other is a state that can never be maintained. Like a declining rate of profit in capitalism, there are bubbles that burst in this self-repression that result in a crisis we struggle to explain and refuse to fix. By not addressing capitalist contradictions, we get out of recessions by taping over solutions with handouts to the rich or war machine, providing temporary relief that results in a bigger and sooner crisis later.

Likewise we tell ourselves to keep going rather than address our wounded human soul, at the root of our misery. And the next time our crisis and alienation is more dire as we pat ourselves on the back for capitulation but all we really did was bend ourselves into a position we cannot hold. French post-modernity is blamed for its turn away from Marxism. But part of the problem is that this focus on the crisis of the individual comes from a very real need.

It may have been possible in Marx’s time to achieve freedom by addressing production alone. However our failure to address the means of production results in a crisis of the individual which must be addressed before we can get back to the contradictions in production. Marx was not wrong to turn to the worker, and we are not wrong to turn to the intellectual. For the worker is free only insofar as she can imagine freedom from this work, not freedom through this work.

Workers may have the discipline to organize revolution. But how can this discipline be utilized if the discipline is seen as an end in and of itself rather than a condition to be overcome? So call me skeptical in this view that we must embrace materialism as opposed to high art. The core of society is not in its reproduction, which occurs as a means of survival and necessity rather than freedom. The core of society is in human’s pursuit of freedom which is contrary to the reproduction of the unfree conditions we live under. We are not free when we reproduce well. We are merely co-conspirators in our own demise.

We naively ring in the new year making goals about how we will be different and better. We do not know ourselves and our dramatic resolutions will fail within the week. Take the classic example of going to the gym more. Rather than enjoying exercise, it becomes another obligation. Naturally we resist such obligation for it impinges on our freedom. We stay home, we break free, and we feel guilty because we fail to recognize on what terms we went to the gym in the first place.

In 2024, fuck it all. Make a resolution. Fail it proudly and on your own terms. Gain joy from refusing to capitulate. Laugh at those trying to be someone they are not. Embrace the smallness of existence. Embrace you will be forgotten. Enjoy your failure. Recognize that all those who succeed are binding themselves. Free them by freeing yourself.

There is no need to be grateful. Except perhaps for the absurdity. The absurdity is something I am grateful for. Well that and my feeling of inferiority in relation to the French. My New Year’s Resolution is to heighten this inferiority complex in relation to Rudy Gobert and other French people I admire. Rather than striving to be like them, my freedom can arise from the relief from having to try.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at