19 February, 2024
25 February, 2025
9 Ricky Rubio (ESP)
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Why Ricky Rubio's return is a win for basketball

ZARAGOZA (Spain) - Ricky Rubio retired from the NBA last summer, and has not played a single basketball game in nearly a year. To see him back on the court felt amazing, not just for his compatriots.

Rubio is already a 33-year-old. Time flew by, but the beard and the tattoos are the only thing making you realize he's not that boy wonder teenager anymore, facing off with arguably the greatest United States team in the Olympic Final in Beijing in 2008.



Yes, the physical look is a bit different. Yet the game is still the same to him. The unique finishes around the rim, the steady pace to his offensive schemes, the unexpected passes, the clutch shots, that's all still there, and after spending 10 months away from the sport, there was a feeling like he's enjoying himself out there again.

The standing ovation from 10,000 fans in Zaragoza made for long lasting memories. Not just for Ricky. Not just for Spain.

"It made this night very unique," Latvia's head coach Luca Banchi said after spoiling the return with a thriller win over the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 champs.

"I will keep it in my best memories, the moment of the presentation and the way the fans responded when he entered the court. We welcome him back, we are basketball fans before we are coaches and players, it's great to see him in action!"

Sure. Easy to say stuff like that after a win, but when Rubio knocked down a three-pointer to cut the gap to two points with just over a minute to play, and when he drew a foul on a three-pointer on the next possession, Banchi and Latvia did not look like "basketball fans."

It was just another proof that something changes for Rubio when his teams need him most. He missed every single of his first eight field goal attempts to start the game, then completely forgot about his shooting struggles and made his first pull up two with three minutes to play.

"It's true that there has been some stir with Ricky's return. I don't know if that has affected the result. I did notice that it was difficult for players who are playing little or nothing for their clubs," said Scariolo in his post-game press conference. "However, Ricky, I saw him with that spark that only he has. And overall, he did well."

He then made the aforementioned triple, drew the foul, and nearly came up with a miraculous save. Down by three, Rubio missed the second free throw, chased down his own rebound, but stepped out of bounds before he could find a teammate to try and tie the game as time expired.

"Ricky is far from his best shape, but yes, we will count on him," Sergio Scariolo said before the game.

Spoiler alert: Scariolo's pre-game quotes were actually as accurate as one could imagine about Rubio playing his first game back.



"What we hope for, simply, is that he is a good leader by example, with defensive effort, making the team play. He will go little by little, with calmness, with patience, taking advantage of the scoring opportunities he may have. He still has it. He is better than I honestly thought, but at the same time it is evident that he has weeks left to be at his best."

Rubio finished with 11 points and 5 assists in 20 minutes of work. If that's "weeks from his best," then all of basketball fans around the continent should be very excited about Rubio reaching his prime shape soon.

"(I feel) almost like a rookie again. But the truth is that I was very excited to return to the national team, it is where I left off. Here in Zaragoza, there is a lot of basketball in this city, so it is an ideal place to return," Rubio said.

The Spanish Basketball Federation uses the term La Familia to describe their national team. Perhaps the familiar feeling of La Familia was the biggest reason why Rubio chose to play his first games back with the national team, not his new/old club FC Barcelona. It all fits into a single quote he dished out before the game.

"I have not felt alone at any time."



So how did it feel after the game?

"There were a lot of nerves, but in the end, it's basketball. It's like learning to ride a bike again, so it's going to be challenging, but I'm happy," Rubio said.

"The love for basketball was always there, right? It got a little dark, but now we just have to dust it off and enjoy this beautiful game again. I'm grateful for this opportunity. It's a shame about the loss, and we'll see how it goes. We had the chance to win, but, well, it didn't happen, and now in Belgium, we have to win."

If you ask us, they don't have to win. They already won, just by giving the world another taste of that good old Rubio magic.