In dark times for the Timberwolves, Ricky Rubio was a bright light

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Ricky Rubio retired from the NBA on Thursday, reaching a buyout with the Cleveland Cavaliers on the final two years of his contract. He hadn’t played in Minnesota since 2021 and announced that he was leaving the game over a mental health crisis from which he is actively recovering.

“One day, when the time is right, I would love to share my full experience with you all so I can help support others going through similar situations,” Rubio wrote on X. “Until then, I would like to keep it private out of respect for my family and myself, as I am still working on my mental health. But I’m proud to say I’m doing much better and getting better everyday.”

For a player who exuded such positivity, who brought so much joy in dark times for the Timberwolves franchise, it was the kind of announcement that can make sports seem suddenly unimportant.

It also brought back memories.

Rubio occupied a strange space. He was often a punchline as one of the two players, along with Jonny Flynn, that the Timberwolves drafted directly ahead of Steph Curry in 2009. In his seven seasons in Minnesota — two different stints and stages of his career — the Wolves went 196-352. He was never an All-Star. Never All-NBA. There was an argument, made in this newspaper, that he was the worst shooter in modern league history.

But to anyone who loved Timberwolves basketball, Ricky Rubio was the truth.

His court vision was unparalleled and he knew how to use it — unloading passes that seemed to exist only in his mind. To watch him on the fast break, looking off defenders while flying down the court and dropping a bounce pass into a space that moments before was nonexistent, placing the ball perfectly into the hands of a streaking Kevin Love or Andrew Wiggins or Zach LaVine, was basketball bliss.

He taught a generation of Wolves fans how to read the court, to see those same invisible seams and to rise to their feet the second the ball left his hands. They would chant for him in his native Spanish in the doldrums of lost seasons, “Olé, olé, olé, olé!”

In Minnesota, we could see what Rubio saw.

Defensively he was tactical, if he sensed invisible spaces on offense, he read the simplistic thoughts of opponents with equal ease — jumping into passing lanes, smacking the ball high in front of his speeding legs, a small hop in his step as the Wolves offense whirred to life.

He averaged 10.1 points, 8.1 assists and 2 steals per game for the Wolves, but the numbers were somehow secondary. To care about Rubio was to care about the feeling of basketball, and in an era where wins were few and far between for the franchise, it was a strand of meaning to hold onto.

In late February of 2013, the Wolves were facing the Lakers, it was of the few times they were on national television during Rubio’s career here. He was mic’d up by TNT and they caught him walking out of a timeout with a despondent looking Alexey Shved. Rubio said to him, “Alexey, change this face. Be happy! Enjoy it!”

It was a little moment that spread around the web like wildfire because it captured something that felt true about Rubio: A different way of seeing the game, of experiencing the little moments in life.

He is walking away from the NBA now, quietly, to find that again for himself. In Minnesota, a world of fans are wishing him well.

First appeared on www.startribune.com

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