Timberwolves fan favorite and 12-year vet, Ricky Rubio, says goodbye to the NBA. We dive deeper into what made Ricky such a special person both on and off the court.
I debated whether or not I could write this piece.
Not whether or not I wanted to, but if I could get through it. As I shared on social media, it’s not because I’d be holding back tears of sadness, but because I’d be holding back tears of happiness. Happiness that I was able to witness Ricky Rubio’s basketball/NBA career, and also that he’s allowing himself to move into a new chapter of his life.
“All good things must come to an end.”
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
I could go on listing quotes like these which would only capture just a fraction of how many of us feel about the news. But he deserves more. Ricky is one of those special individuals who come into our lives, even if it’s just on the basketball court or our screens, and has this special effect on us. He was more than “just a basketball player.”
Ricky was our unicorn*.
I’ve intentionally tipped my hat to him in various articles that I’ve written here at Canis Hoopus. I would have no problem whatsoever regurgitating the words that I’ve shared about him and the impact he’s had on the Minnesota Timberwolves organization. However, when you’ve tasked yourself with penning a dedication piece to honor his career, then you dig deep into your heart to share more about this hero.
*The Canis Hoopus comments section was the first time “Unicorn” was used as a nickname for a player in 2012. Kevin Durant later donned that moniker for Kristaps Porzingis in 2016.
**The official Canis Hoopus FAQ is still being updated.
Do you remember where you were on the evening of Thursday, June 25, 2009? After being picked fifth in the NBA draft, Rubio sat across from ESPN’s Mark Jones on a couch and candidly responded to a question about which player he felt he most played like.
Boy, was he right.
The Wolves were fresh off their second straight sub 25-win season and third season without franchise icon, Kevin Garnett. The young core of Al Jefferson, Corey Brewer, and Randy Foye wasn’t quite blooming the way General Manager, Kevin McHale, had thought they would. Their newest top ten draft pick, Kevin Love, showed some promise in his rookie campaign, but was weirdly being held back by Kurt Rambis. Minnesota was going nowhere, fast.
The Timberwolves fan base waited two whole seasons for their savior to arrive.
How many professional athletes, let alone NBA players, touch down in their new city with this type of reception? This video captured the essence of how people felt about Ricky. He hadn’t even put on a Wolves jersey. Yet somehow, in his very first game action, in front of a sellout Target Center crowd, the product was even better than the hype. Even from halfway across the country, I could physically feel the electricity in the arena as he conducted his first of many NBA orchestras on the hardwood. The way Ricky zipped passes to his teammates had then two-time MVP, LeBron James, live tweeting about him.
If it weren’t for an uncalled offensive foul by “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,” Minnesota would have likely ended their postseason drought at seven seasons. Half of what it ended up being. Despite the team’s eventual shortcomings, fans were willing to wait because of the hope Rubio inspired.
Even as Wesley Johnson and Derrick Williams busted.
Even when Kevin Love dealt with injuries and his eventual trade request.
Even during a fresh rebuild featuring Wiggins, LaVine, and Towns.
Even through multiple front office and coaching changes.
Ricky kept fans coming to Target Center and tuning into their televisions through it all. There may have been no other Timberwolf that had to deal with hearing their name pop-up in trade rumors every deadline and offseason more than Rubio. He never let that shake him. Ricky continued being a positive force both on the court (Top 10 in franchise WS and VORP) and off the court as well. There’s a reason why well-respected people who have worked with him like Jon Krawczynski, Jim Petersen, and Shahbaz Khan all publicly honor and celebrate him.
Ricky Rubio inspired hope to the people of Minnesota. He inspired hope to a generation of young hoopers in Spain. He inspired hope to a world that has always needed more good guys, and Ricky one of the best guys.
A Real Human Being
As much as we may want to believe that Ricky had a beautiful ride off into the sunset, the reality is that life isn’t always that perfect. In his official retirement announcement, he vulnerably opened up to the world, revealing just a peak at the tough times he’s been going through.
Life doesn’t always go the way you think or want it to. Not for ourselves, and surely not for our heroes. We can’t pretend to know what’s going on in Ricky’s life. As he requested, we should all do our best to respect him and his family’s privacy. That said, even with the most understandable of requests, it’s impossible for Rubio to not show his true self. Someone who wants to help others, even amid his darkest of times.
This was evident when Ricky shared a beautiful, though heartbreaking, piece about what he went through nearly eight years ago when he lost his mother to cancer. He turned what was his biggest nightmare, into fuel to help the world. The Ricky Rubio Foundation focuses on lung cancer awareness, assisting underprivileged youth globally, and supporting disabled youth, among many other efforts. Rubio has routinely shared how much more these causes mean to him as opposed to his basketball legacy. During the summer of 2021, Ricky received the Offseason NBA Cares Community Assist award for campaigns such as #OneMonthOneCause, where he supported Minneapolis-based lung cancer support nonprofit, A Breath Of Hope. In 2022, Ricky was honored with the 2022 Marin Mazzie Award for Empowerment by the largest global nonprofit cancer support network, the Cancer Support Community (CSC).
Therein lies the true beauty of Ricky. From the exterior, you see the beautiful eyelashes and long locks of hair. On the court, you see the brilliant passing and charismatic leadership. From his story, you see the resiliency to overcome hardships and uplift others.
When it’s all said and done, you see the man that changed our faces.
Wolves Nation will always love you, Ricky.
I leave you with this. The lasting memories that Ricky Rubio the basketball player has left for us, as his journey as a top tier human is still a long way from being complete.
Pre-draft Mixtape that Enthralled the World
NBA Debut that Even a King Can’t Ignore
Finishing First Career Triple-Double with Flair
The People’s Point Guard
Then Career-High in Season Opener Days After Flip’s Passing
Game Winner Against the Oklahoma City Thunder
Franchise Record 19 Dimes Including 10 in a Quarter
Shutting Up Former MVP Russell Westbrook in the Playoffs
MVP Crown for the FIBA World Cup King
Career-high Game Against the Coach Who Didn’t Believe in Him