Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — The surprises just keep on coming for Utah center Hassan Whiteside.
When he first spoke to Jazz coach Quin Snyder ahead of joining the team, he thought of the hot-tempered presence that prowled up and down the Utah bench during games he played against the Jazz. What he got was a "smooth-talking guy" who ultimately convinced Whiteside to come to Utah.
He thought Donovan Mitchell was going be a bit standoffish. He soon found out how big of a personality the Jazz star has been.
With those pleasant surprises already revealed, another one shouldn't be too big of a shock: The Jazz actually are friends — close friends.
"It's so cool how close the team is," Whiteside said. "I haven't been on a team that's so close. A lot of people say, 'Hey, we're a close team, we do this together.' Nah, this is really like a close-knit group. So, it's pretty great; I love it."
And the person he's grown the closest to is the exact person that he used to trade social media jabs with: Rudy Gobert.
The two have been at the center (figuratively and literally) of what the Jazz have described as some extra intense and physical practices.
"People coming out with bloody lips and scratches and stuff," Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson said.
Who were those people?
"Hassan yesterday. Rudy one day," Clarkson revealed with a laugh. "Those two have been battling."
But there's no animosity; in fact, it's just the opposite. They battle against each other in the day on the court, and then team up at night.
The two hop on Call of Duty and often go up against Mitchell, Mike Conley or anyone else that wants to join in.
"Me and Rudy, we beat each other up all practice and then play Call of Duty all night," Whiteside said.
Gaming together isn't necessarily unique in NBA circles, but Whiteside said there's a different feel among the Jazz. He's been on teams with people he calls "employee friends.'' He saw them at practice and at games, and then they went their different ways. That, in fact, has been the norm throughout an NBA career that has taken him from Sacramento, Miami and Portland.
But that's not what his experience has been in Utah. He gets constant messages from teammates like, "Hey man, come over," or "Hey man, jump on the game," or "Hey man, what are you doing tonight?"
It's been different than his previous NBA stops — and a difference he's enjoyed.
"I think Hassan's in a really, really good place," Snyder said. "I'm really glad he's here. I felt strongly when I talked to him that this would be a really good fit for him. I think he's feeling that in a short period of time."
Whiteside believes the culture was a major component for why the Jazz had the best record in the league a season ago. Since it's still prevalent, he sees no reason why the team won't have similar success in the 2021-22 season. And he's eager to contribute to that.
"You try to match that standard, even improve on it," he said. "I think that's a great challenge and I think it's a privilege to be able to put that jersey on."