Ricky Rubio is ‘always on and always happy,’ which means he’s continuing to play a big role in the communities in Utah and worldwide
(Courtesy of Utah Jazz) Ricky Rubio interacts with a Special Olympics Utah athlete while hosting a shopping spree at the Park City Adidas store.
Quin Snyder was perturbed by the reporter’s question.
“It seems like Ricky (Rubio)’s done a really good job of staying involved with the community and the team even after the trade rumors. What does that say about Ricky and what kind of person he is?”
That’s what upset Snyder. The Utah Jazz coach knows Rubio well enough that the thought of Rubio changing who he is as a person in response to something that happened on the court or in the news is, well, offensive.
“It’s who he is. The idea that he wouldn’t be is, to me, it wouldn’t be on my radar. It’s not about a perception or something, it’s not even about him. It’s about what he’s doing for other people and the things that he’s passionate about," Snyder said. “If he’s here, if he’s in Minnesota, if he’s in Barcelona, he’s a unique, unique person.”
But the truth of the matter is that there would have been NBA players who immediately withdrew from their surroundings once their future was in doubt. That Rubio didn’t says something about him.
“To keep that same positivity and same happiness, it’s never a dull day with Ricky, it’s never an off day,” Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell said. “He’s always on and always happy.”
The list of community programs Rubio is involved in is lengthy. So, for example, Rubio has continued his “One Month One Cause” plan this season, where each month, he highlights, works with, and donates to a different charity.
He’s an ambassador for the Special Olympics — this year, he took a group of Special Olympians up to the Adidas store in Park City, where he led them on a shopping spree. He’s hosted Make-a-Wish Utah at a Jazz game in November. He’s probably the main player face behind the 5 For The Fight organization that has placed its name on the Jazz’s uniforms, working to raise funds for cancer research.
Cancer is a cause near and dear to Rubio: he lost his mother
to lung cancer in 2016.
So he’s met with patients at the Huntsman Cancer Institute multiple times this season, including two days before the trade deadline. Just an hour after the deadline, he visited Primary Children’s Hospital, along with his Jazz teammates. He flew 12-year-old cancer patient Luca de la Vega from Spain to New York to watch the Jazz’s game against the Knicks; Luca acted as Rubio’s ball-boy, got excellent seats, and Rubio made sure he got an autograph from all of his teammates after the game.
“Ricky is just such a great person. He’s got a big heart. He really cares about people, he cares about us as teammates,” Kyle Korver said. “It feels like he’s always watching, always noticing, always reaching out however he can. And then he’s doing that in the community too, that’s just who he is. He’s a great guy.”
There’s also the Ricky Rubio Academy, his monthly basketball camp at Rowland Hall school in Salt Lake City. For kids of all skill levels between 7 and 14 years old, the camp teaches basketball skills and “the values that bring basketball to life, including leadership skills, healthy habits, and nutritional knowledge," according to Rubio.
“The kids have something special. They always have the fire to play basketball, because they love basketball no matter what. Sometimes we lose track of that during our pro years,” Rubio said. “Seeing a kid enjoying the game just loving the basketball is pure passion, pure love. That’s why I started to play basketball, because of that.”
While the camp has regular attendees, Rubio often invites special groups to join. In February, 10 from Special Olympics Utah attended Rubio’s sessions, for example. In March, it’s a group of Japanese youth who traveled to the U.S. for the occasion, meeting with Rubio on Saturday and Sunday.
How did that come about? Well, that story encapsulates what Rubio is all about: He met Japanese Timberwolves fan Mitsuaki Ono in a chance meeting at a Minneapolis restaurant. Through his seasons with the Wolves, whenever Ono had the chance to travel to the states for a game, the two would chat before or after the contest.
“So yeah, it’s pretty much the same after the game. After that, he always said, ‘Oh, you came today. How was the flight and how’s life?” Ono told the Japan Times
. "That makes me closer to him. Every time I meet him . . . he cares what I’m doing (in life).”
“In Japan and China, they love basketball, but they’re so far away, it’s hard to get connected. He really is passionate about basketball, and we met more than a couple of times, and the first couple of times I realized how much he loves basketball and how much he’s doing for the people in Japan to really love the NBA,” Rubio said.
Ono was introduced to Rubio’s manager and friend Lucas Charte, and the two began to figure out how Rubio could reach out to Japanese youth. This trip was the result.
“I brought them them to feel something outside of Japan, because they only know Japan basketball," Ono said. "In the States, they can see whole other things, which will grow their mind and their futures.”
So yes, Rubio’s future with the Jazz might be up in the air — he’s an unrestricted free agent this summer. But from the way Rubio is regarded by those in Minnesota, Barcelona, or even Japan, regardless of what happens to his basketball future, Rubio’s impact will continue to be felt in 2020 and beyond in Utah.
“The community gives you so much that you have to give back a lot. The more you give back, the more love you receive, and that’s great. We have the power to make an impact where we’re at, and we have to take advantage of that for the good things,” Rubio said. “Kids are going to grow up and you can be proud of making an impact.”