LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — When his postgame Zoom interview was over, before making a triumphant exit to the team bus, Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz acknowledged that the historic play he was savoring did not go exactly as planned.
“I wasn’t supposed to get a post-up,” Gobert said. “I was supposed to get a dunk.”
After using a Donovan Mitchell screen to shake free, finally corralling a deflected pass and then spinning back toward the baseline, Gobert dropped the ball in over his former teammate Derrick Favors inside the first 20 seconds on Thursday night. Gobert’s brief nod that followed seemed to acknowledge the significance of the score.
What Gobert ultimately got was a layup that will be recorded as the first N.B.A. basket in July that has ever counted. He scored the first two points and the last two points in Utah’s 106-104 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans in the first game of the N.B.A. restart at Walt Disney World — 141 days after Gobert’s positive coronavirus test on March 11 led to the indefinite suspension of the season.
“Life works in a mysterious way,” Gobert said.
That opening sequence and his clinching free throws, as a mere 62.1-percent foul shooter, helped make it a redemptive evening for Gobert. His moment came swiftly after the pregame moment — moving social justice protest, in an arena without fans but teeming with unity and purpose, that made this return engagement an even bigger occasion for the N.B.A.
For more than four minutes before the Jazz and the Pelicans tipped off, both teams’ players, coaches and staff members, along with the referees, congregated side by side, stretching from baseline to baseline. They gathered near the BLACK LIVES MATTER lettering affixed to the floor near the scorer’s table, then knelt in unison during a playing of the national anthem recorded by the musician Jon Batiste.
The Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers, Staples Center co-tenants and rivals, came together to do the same before their game, during a recorded rendition of the anthem by the Compton Kidz Club from the Los Angeles area. Later, after LeBron James had helped the Lakers clinch a 103-101 victory with winning plays at both ends in the final 12.8 seconds, he told TNT in a postgame interview: “I hope our fans are proud of us.”
James wasn’t talking about the basketball. Nor was he referring to the league’s comeb