By: Dan Slaubaugh
It’s true. Ricky Rubio, Spanish unicorn and wonderboy sensation, is no longer a Minnesota Timberwolf.
I’ve dreaded writing a farewell for some time now (over a year), but the time has come. Let’s do this.
The year is 2010. I’m on my couch as a 14-year old teenager watching the Michael Beasley and Kevin Love-led Timberwolves. I’m surely getting way too excited about the prospect of those two being able to lead an NBA team deep into the playoffs. Again, I’m 14. I’m probably eating Lucky Charms two meals out of the day and rooting for Tim Tebow to make it in sports. Oh wait, I’m still doing those things today. *Sigh*
Deep down, though, I knew I was watching some terrible basketball. That Timberwolves team finished 17-65, so it wasn’t any secret they needed major talent upgrades throughout their roster. The one outside glimmer of hope I had for the team came from an 18-year old teenager playing professional basketball in Spain.
His name - Ricky Rubio.
The words ignited feelings of hope. Consoled feelings of frustration.
The Wolves fifth overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft played in the EuroLeague at age 16 and was considered the Spanish Pete Maravich, with dribbling and passing skills that were eye-popping. He played against the U.S. in the gold medal game at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 at age 17.
Fast forward to 2011. Ricky Rubio is on center stage in Minnesota, dealing dimes in front of a rejuvenated fan base at Target Center. His game was different. It was flashy. It was entertaining. A pass-first point guard with the ability to draw “ooh’s and ahh’s” out of the crowd was exactly what the franchise needed.
Rubio had that team on track to break a seven-year playoff drought. Unfortunately, the spark-provider suffered a torn ACL in the team’s 42nd game against the Lakers at home, ending his season and ultimately the team’s playoff chances as Minnesota went 5-20 in its final 25 games after the injury. The date was March 9, 2012. I don't even have to look that up because it's been ingrained into my mind ever since the night of the injury. That's the kind of effect Ricky has had on my life.
Regardless of the outcome, Ricky’s rookie year was the most fun I've had watching the Timberwolves. They weren’t deep and filled with top-tier talent. However, they meshed greatly together and had phenomenal team chemistry. This led them to success when Ricky was healthy.
Unfortunately, the next five years of Rubio’s career in Minnesota would be the culprit of exhausting discussion regarding the point guard’s value. The main flaw, of course, being his suspect jump shot that never fully improved for a long stretch of time.
Rubio was an incredibly contentious player in Minnesota. But through it all, his positive attitude, selflessness, and loyalty to make his team better shined through a failed rebuild and being asked to run the show for incredibly inexperienced and young rosters.
People seem to forget, but Rubio was healthy for his last two years in a Wolves uniform. He could have easily demanded his way out by asking Flip Saunders or Tom Thibodeau to trade him. Throughout his time in Minnesota, Rubio never truly had a realistic chance to heavily compete with the teams surrounding him.
But he never complained. He was always a shining light during the dark times. Sad part about it, he was underappreciated through it all.
As Drew Mahowald (former OTP writer) once said following the 2015-16 season:
"The most disappointing thing about this season is the fact that Wolves fans still bash Ricky Rubio. I just don't understand it. It gave me an idea, actually. I created a Timberwolves basketball knowledge test, a test that proves how much you know about basketball, specifically Wolves basketball. Here's the test:
Do you think Ricky Rubio is a valuable asset to the Wolves moving forward?
If yes, you pass.
If no, you fail. You have little knowledge of basketball. "
There are so many, but my favorite moment of Ricky Rubio’s career in Minnesota was his game-winning three on March 12, 2016 in Oklahoma City. It was a joy to see him shut his haters up for one night.
Another favorite memory of Rubio was on March 3, 2013 against San Antonio when he registered his first triple-double, which included a beautifully epic two-times-behind-the-back-layup. Boy oh boy that was filthy.
It would take far too long to retrieve the ample amount of fond memories Ricky Rubio has given to myself and the rest of Wolves nation, so I’ll just move on.
Although Rubio was never fortunate enough to make the playoffs in Minnesota, he still put on a show each and every night. A show that catapulted him up to second place on the Wolves all-time assists and steals leader-board.
From the bottom of my heart, I just want to say thanks for everything.
Thanks for being incredibly loyal. You could have easily complained and went public in your dismay of the way you were treated by management here. Heck, you had the best year of your career last year and wounded up hearing about a washed up player (Derrick Rose) replacing you when the season finished. But you didn’t because you aren't wired that way.
Thanks for being an awesome teammate. I will never forget the moment when Tyus hit that game-winner against Toronto. Nobody was happier than you. It exemplified how selfless you are - a great teammate who truly only cared about winning.
Thanks for giving us hope in the darkest of times. There was many times over the years that I would literally only turn on the television just to watch you distribute the basketball. You made me fall in love with this team. You are the reason I’m a Wolves fan.
And last *wipes tears*, thanks for being Ricky. Our Ricky.
You truly weren’t like anybody else.
Good luck in Utah. We’ll be rooting for you.