Jake Gibb (USA)

It began - and where else could it? - with his wife.

Jake Gibb had just finished the final AVP match of his career, a 21-19, 17-21, 7-15 loss to Casey Patterson and Chase Budinger, and not a soul in the jam-packed Chicago stands dared leave. They knew the moment. They knew what they were witnessing. After sharing a long hug with his partner, Taylor Crabb, Gibb was given the microphone.

“Where’s my wife?” he began. “You guys don’t know Jane, but if you know her, you love her. She’s the girl that went on the road and when we suffered some losses, I have to talk to Jane. She’s been there forever and I love her.”

And so began the appreciation tour of one Jake Spiker Gibb.

The past few months have been a goodbye tour of sorts for Gibb, one of the greatest American blockers to ever play this game. The 2021 season featured one final milestone after the next: final Olympic Games, final Olympic match, final Manhattan Beach Open, final bout with Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, final AVP event.

And in one week, at the World Tour Finals in Cagliari, Italy, Gibb will enjoy his final milestone: the last beach volleyball tournament of his storied career.

He’s going out on a big stage, Gibb. the World Tour Finals features just 10 teams, of which Gibb and Crabb are the only American men. It boasts the largest prize purse of the season, to be distributed among beach volleyball’s biggest heavyweights: Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, Ahmed Tijan and Cherif Younousse, Ilya Leshukov and Konstantin Semenov, Alex Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen, Ondrej Perusic and David Schweiner, Adrian Carambula and Enrico Rossi, Martins Plavins and Edgars Tocs, Steven van de Velde and Christiaan Varenhorst.

The only other event on the beach volleyball calendar that carries the weight of World Tour Finals is the Olympic Games itself. But in Tokyo, Gibb was robbed of the experience of competing with the partner he loves so much, the partner who is likely to become the next American mainstay in the Olympics. Crabb was removed due to a positive COVID test that kept him quarantined in his hotel room, and it was Tri Bourne who competed alongside Gibb. They competed well, too, but still: it was different. It wasn’t the team they had built for four years, the team who had been climbing the ranks for that exact moment.

It wasn't the same.

The sting of that might never fade. But gratitude and appreciation are two of the world’s most effective salves. And in the space between Chicago and the World Tour Finals, Gibb has been pouring out gratitude – genuine, heartfelt gratitude – for everyone who has helped him on his indelible journey. He poured it out for those at Lululemon, the sponsor who has been with him since 2012, the same company who scrambled together last-minute jerseys for the Olympics, when it was Bourne, not Crabb, who needed outfitting. He heaped appreciation on the trainers at USA Volleyball, who have kept his body not just fit enough to play, but fit enough to continually improve up to the age of 45 years old.

“At 44,” Gibb wrote, “I became the person I should have always been.”

Then there is Kleinskin, the sunscreen company who not only has helped Gibb stay healthy from the sun, but who also has partnered with Gibb to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. There are physiotherapists and electric bike companies, Waiakea water, and many to come – coaches, partners, organisations.

And when the time comes, when Jake Gibb plays the final match of his career, perhaps the script should be flipped, the narrative reversed.

Perhaps that will be the time the beach volleyball fans and world can show their appreciation for not only one of the best players to play the game – but one of the best men who for more than two decades made the sport better.