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From Spain to the US for child basketball prodigy

Child basketball prodigy Ricky Rubio will see his dream come true in October when he suits up for his first game as an NBA player with the Minnesota Timberwolves.


Ricky Rubio officially announced he will play in the NBA next season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, ending all speculation about when he would make the leap to the NBA. Rubio will be the tenth Spanish-born player to play in the NBA since Fernando Martín joined the Portland Trail Blazers in 1986.

ricky rubio

Biting the bullet: Ricky Rubio heads for the NBA.

On June 17 Rubio explained in the Camp Nou press room that the time for a change had come and that the decision was even easier after having won the ACB playoffs. “Even though I was sure about going, it’s been a difficult decision. After winning the ACB title, the one I still didn’t have, the time has come,” he said.

Rubio has won all a player could hope to win in Europe: the Under-16 European Basketball Cup in 2005, the FIBA Eurocup in 2006, a silver medal in Beijing in the 2008 Summer Olympics, Eurobasket 2009, three King’s Cups in 2008, 2010 and 2011, the Euroleague in 2010 and the ACB Playoffs in 2011.

The 20-year-old is definitely ready for new challenges, especially after a hard 2010-2011 season with Regal Barcelona. He suffered from peroneal tenosynovitis, a swelling of the tendon near the ankle, which hurt his level of play and made fans wonder if he had reached his potential.

Even when healthy Rubio’s game is more appropriate for the NBA where there is less pressure on playmakers to score and more emphasis on defence and assists: his strong points. He’s not a great shooter; he only made 27 percent from beyond the 3-point line and only 38 percent in 2-point attempts this season. That won’t be such a big problem in the NBA where the ‘run and gun’ style of play suits Rubio’s game to a tee.

Nevertheless, Rubio is aware that he must improve and work hard to make it in the NBA. “I have to improve in many areas. Physically it’s harder than in Europe. I’ll have to lift more weights to improve and grow as a player.”

The transition is not easy. There are several Spanish players who didn’t prosper in the NBA, such as Raúl López, who played two years with the Utah Jazz and was then cut due to knee problems. Jorge Garbajosa lasted two years with Toronto Raptors and was released from his contract after an ankle injury. Juan Carlos Navarro, one of Spain’s best players ever, only lasted one year with the Memphis Grizzlies. Navarro claimed that he returned to Barcelona for sentimental reasons, but he also went from making €400,000 a year in Memphis to €3 million in Barcelona.

Show me the money

Money is why Rubio had to wait two years to make his move to the NBA. When he was drafted in 2009 his contract with DKV Badalona included a buyout clause of €4.7 million. Rubio’s salary at the time was €200,000 a year and NBA teams have a limit of $500,000 (approx. €357,000) to acquire players, which is usually carried out by trading players and draft picks.

Economically speaking it was not feasible for Rubio to buyout his contract and go to the NBA, especially considering that he was chosen fifth, which substantially lowered his earning potential in the US. He would have earned the equivalent of €2.3 million a year according to NBA rules. Therefore it would have cost Rubio two years’ wages just to get out of his own contract.

Rubio was stuck and decided to sue his own team, DKV Badalona, which inevitably caused some friction with management. Barcelona came to the rescue and on Sep. 1, 2009 the biggest trade in Spanish basketball history was made with a €3.7 million agreement between the two Catalan teams.

The agreement wasn’t only for short-term satisfaction for the parties involved. It appears that a mid-term plan was established in 2009 that would allow Rubio to achieve his dream of playing in the NBA two years later. “It’s not a last-minute deal, the preferential agreement was closed two seasons ago,” announced Joan Creus, Barcelona’s Basketball Director, at Rubio’s last press conference as a Regal Barcelona player.

The two years in Regal Barcelona have paid off for Rubio in economic terms. The 20-year-old playmaker will have to pay Barcelona $500,000 and the Minnesota Timberwolves will pay the other $500,000. “We hope he’s successful and does well for many years. If he wants to return to Regal Barça we have preferential rights on Ricky,” Creus explained.

So the soap opera is over. It’s official. Ricky Rubio will be playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves next season. Spanish basketball fans have enjoyed six seasons of Rubio’s playmaking skills. From his first games in the 2005-2006 season for DKV Joventut at the age of 14 to the recent ACB playoff championship with Regal Barcelona he has thrilled fans in Barcelona and all over Spain.

Now it’s time for Ricky Rubio to show the US fans what he’s capable of.

Spanish born players in the NBA

  1. Fernando Martín – Portland Trailblazers, 1986-1987
  2. Pau Gasol – Memphis Grizzlies, 2001-2008 and Los Angeles Lakers, 2008-present
  3. Raúl López – Utah Jazz, 2003-2005
  4. José Manuel Calderón – Toronto Raptors, 2005-present
  5. Jorge Garbajosa – Toronto Raptors, 2006-2008
  6. Sergio Rodríguez – Portland Trailblazers, 2006-2009 and Sacramento Kings, 2009-2010 and New York Knicks, 2009-2010
  7. Juan Carlos Navarro – Memphis Grizzlies, 2007-2008
  8. Rudy Fernández Portland – Trail Blazers, 2008-present
  9. Marc Gasol – Memphis Grizzlies, 2008-present
  10. Ricky Rubio – Minnesota Timberwolves, 2011-

Nationalized Spanish Citizens who have played in the NBA

  1. Johnny Rogers (USA) – Sacramento Kings, 1986-87 and Cleveland Cavaliers 1987-1988
  2. Serge Ibaka (Democratic Republic of the Congo) – Oklahoma Thunder, 2009-present

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Published: Jun 21 2011
Category: Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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