Ronn TorossianRonn Torossian

Utah Jazz center Gobert is apologizing after orchestrating one of the more bizarre scenes in what has already been an unprecedented week in world history.

At the end of a press conference last week, the NBA player made a point to deliberately wipe his hands on reporters’ sound equipment on the table in front of him, joking about the growing concerns surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Gobert subsequently tested positive for the virus, the day before one of his teammates, Donovan Mitchell, tested positive as well.

On the day when the NBA announced it was shutting down the season, the video of a sick Gobert jokingly touching the recording equipment went viral. Fan sentiment, which had been with Gobert when it was announced he was sick, shifted quickly when the video hit social media and sports TV.

Gobert took to social media both to thank fans for their encouragement and to express “embarrassment” related to his behavior after the interview: “I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of concern and support over the last 24 hours … I have gone through so many emotions since learning of my diagnosis. Mostly fear, anxiety, and embarrassment.”

Gobert went on to say, specifically, that he owed an apology to anyone he may have “endangered,” posting: “At the time, I had no idea I was even infected. I was careless and made no excuses. I hope my story serves as a warning and causes everyone to take this seriously. I will do whatever I can to support a way to educate others and prevent the spread of this virus …”

Stopping the spread of the virus is one reason the NBA gave for “suspending” games in the near future. However, if these efforts are too little too late, and more players end up testing positive for the virus, that video of Gobert is going to get a lot more air time. Questions will be asked and fingers will be pointed, because there’s a lot of money on the line and a lot of blame to go around.

With that in mind, both Gobert and the NBA need to continue working on their messaging. The former because, especially with so many games being canceled, he’s going to continue to be among the top sports stories for a while yet, and the latter because the NBA set the precedent for suspending a season due to the virus, and there’s no playbook for what to do next.

That question will be under intense scrutiny by everyone involved in professional sports, from owners to employees to media to fans. Everyone will have an opinion as to when and how the season should start up again, and the league’s message will need to be strong and consistent, as well as well-planned and well-communicated.


Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5W Public Relations, a leading PR firm.