If you scroll through Rudy Gobert's Instagram of the past months, you'll see photos of him taking in gorgeous views and enjoying the movie-like scenery in places like the Hamptons, France, Japan and Abu Dhabi.
But perhaps no trip the Timberwolves center took during the offseason was as significant to him as the one he took to southern Oregon.
Nestled in the woods there are three small cottages built by Sky Cave Retreats, which runs "darkness retreats." People are left alone in a room with basic necessities — food, water, a bathroom and a bed— but they are alone, in darkness, for days, cut off from the outside world.
Sky Cave Retreats gained notoriety earlier this year when Aaron Rodgers participated in a darkness retreat before deciding the next step in his career, which led the quarterback to force a trade from the Packers to the Jets.
Gobert, who meditates frequently on his own, wanted the chance to experience this for himself. In May, in one of the company's hobbit-like holes, he entered a small door that led to a room underground, where he spent the next 64 hours: three nights and two days.
"It was a really powerful experience," said Gobert, whose team opens the NBA season on Wednesday at Toronto. "In our society, we're constantly distracted, whether it's phone, music or noise, and most of us don't get to be alone or with ourselves. Even if we're alone, we don't get to face ourselves.
"When you're in the dark and there's no distraction, you get to be with yourself, and it can be uncomfortable, but I think for every human being on Earth, I think it's a good thing to do because it really makes you grow."
At a crossroads
Gobert had a tumultuous first season with the Wolves after nine seasons with the Utah Jazz. When he came over for a treasure trove of draft assets, expectations for the Wolves were sky high. After the team stumbled, then Karl-Anthony Towns was sidelined by an injury, angst in the fan base grew, with Gobert being a target.
By his own admission, he didn't live up to his own lofty standards.
The former three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year didn't garner a single vote for the all-defense team, and the lasting image of Gobert was when he took a swing at teammate Kyle Anderson in the huddle on the last day of the regular season — an action that caused the team to suspend him for its first play-in tournament game.
He averaged 13.4 points and 11.6 rebounds, down from the 15.6 points and 14.7 rebounds from his final season in Utah. He averaged 1.4 blocks per game, the first time since his rookie year when he hadn't averaged more than two.
So Gobert might have had a lot of negative thoughts on his mind when he began his retreat, which some of the testimonials on the website likened to the effect of using psychedelics.
But this wouldn't be a bad trip for Gobert, nor would it lead him to a radical change in career, as it had done for Rodgers. Instead, he experienced a lot of positive emotions.
"I came out of there like I was born again," Gobert said. "I was really grateful for my journey, and I really felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be in my journey right now."
When he heard Gobert was interested in a darkness retreat, Scott Berman, the owner and operator of Sky Cave Retreats, had some work to do.
"We had to retrofit the bed," Berman said.
Sky Cave Retreats was not accustomed to having 7-foot-1 clients, but the staff got the bed to an acceptable length for Gobert's visit. The ceiling was already eight feet high as they prepared for Gobert to stay in the same room Rodgers used.
"Once he was in there, he didn't have to worry about his head," Berman said.
Berman would come a couple times per day with food (eggs and sausage, sandwiches, soup, fruit and salads) that was passed through a two-way sealed cabinet. Gobert said he spent 30-45 minutes per day doing exercises, but for the most part was meditating and reflecting.
"I had an immense sense of gratitude for my journey," Gobert said. "The ups and downs, where I'm at in my life. You realize your mind is so powerful and your mind is going to be your reality. What you project is going to be what you live.
"If you're in the dark and you think about negative things, you're going to see negative things. You don't have a choice but to project positive things."
There were some uncomfortable moments; Gobert's emotions were similar to a lot of people who go through the retreat, Berman said. The lack of a connection to the outside world forces people to confront what they truly value and why they treasure those people or things.
Gobert called it "meditation times 1,000."
"The darkness on some level, it almost simulates a near-death experience," Berman said. "You pretty much die to the world. There's no one to connect with. Everything that's meaningful in your life, that gives you purpose and worth is gone. All of a sudden it's, 'What really matters?' People then come to that gratitude for everything we have."
Back to basketball
Amid the personal thoughts he experienced during the retreat, Gobert had plenty of time to think about hoops. He spent a lot of time pondering the Wolves' defense, which a season ago was 10th in defensive efficiency with Gobert. That marked their highest defensive rating as a franchise since 2003-04, but Gobert and the coaching staff feel they could be better.
Since the native of Saint-Quentin, France, arrived, the Wolves' defensive schemes have been a collaboration between Gobert and the coaching staff, specifically head coach Chris Finch and assistant Elston Turner, who oversees the defense.
A few weeks after Gobert's retreat, he returned to Minnesota and had dinner with Finch.
"I told him about everything that was in my mind and everything was clear," Gobert said. "... Mostly I thought of the principles that we need to have. Like break down from ground zero and go back to, 'What are the principles that we need to have in order to be the team that we can be?' And also, obviously me being who I know I could be."
That last part is essential for the Wolves if they have designs on advancing deep into the playoffs. Gobert is 31, and big men tend to decline earlier and faster than other positions in basketball. Last season he said his play, especially in the first half of the year, wasn't up to his usual standards.
"I'm kind of used to being counted out. It's been the pattern of my life and career," Gobert said. "... They count me out and I have to come back and show the world again who I am."
He has heard the chatter saying he is on the down slope of his career, and it's nothing new to him. Some of the snubs, he said, are "cool" to see, as if he's saying, "That's fine, I'll just prove them wrong."
"I'm feeling the best I've ever felt," he said. "I hope they expect me, because I'm going to do whatever it takes to help this team be a top defense, and the numbers will speak for themselves."
Finch praised Gobert's selflessness in a recent exhibition victory over the Knicks. Gobert had just one shot attempt, but his action on the offensive end opened up shots for his teammates.
"There was never a peep about it," Finch said. "Didn't grumble. Didn't give anyone the side eye."
'Rudy is gonna be Rudy'
As much as Gobert had to acclimate to Minnesota, his teammates also had to acclimate to him, and it was bumpy at times, especially when they would try to pass him the ball in certain spots and Gobert might lose possession. Point guard D'Angelo Russell, now with the Lakers, even aired his frustration after a November loss at Charlotte by saying, "He catch the ball, he'll score."
That kind of nuance is something current Wolves point guard Mike Conley, who went through a similar process with Gobert in Utah, said should be better now that everyone has had a year playing together. Now they have a better idea of where and when to pass Gobert the ball and how better to use his ability to screen.
"The first year it's such a work in progress for both sides," Conley said. "Because Rudy is gonna be Rudy. The guy who is normally handling the ball has to change their game a little bit to be conducive to Rudy's game. The second year you let go of a little bit of that frustration of certain things that don't work."
While on his retreat, Gobert said, he also had felt appreciation that, despite their issues last season (self-inflicted or not), the Wolves still made it to the playoffs.
"In kind of a sadistic way, I embraced all the adversity that I had and we had as a team and organization," Gobert said. "I enjoyed the resiliency we showed throughout the course of the year."
That goes hand in hand with the experience Gobert had on his retreat: Embrace the good with the bad; savor where you are in life and how you got there, no matter how turbulent it may be.
"You lose a lot of yourself in all the things that you chase," he said. "It's important to keep chasing your dreams, but at the same time, every day realize how lucky you are to be alive and enjoy every single moment."