One Year Later, Ricky Rubio Is Back

One year ago tonight, the atmosphere at Target Center changed. No longer was the building full of optimism. No longer did you feel like anything could happen. On March 10, 2012, as the Wolves took on the New Orleans Hornets, the general energy inside the arena paled in comparison to what it was even 24 hours earlier.

That’s because a year ago yesterday, Ricky Rubio suffered the knee injury heard round the world. Guarding Kobe Bryant late in Minnesota’s “White Out” game against the Lakers, Rubio planted, hit the ground and didn’t get back up. For as many cheers and electric moments Rubio provided in his rookie season, this moment of silence rang the loudest. We didn’t get official word about Rubio’s knee until the next day, but in that instance I think most fans assumed the worst.

Rubio, always sporting that boyish enthusiasm, gave off body mannerisms that suggested this might be a significant injury.

Fast forward to tonight as the Wolves host the Mavericks, and the Wolves in many ways have not been healthy since that night. But one player who is as healthy as ever is Rubio. We’re seeing night in and night out that while it took time to recover and regain his game in its fullest capacity, the Ricky Rubio that has taken the court in the past two weeks in many ways mirrors the Rubio that was taking the league’s breath away as a rookie.

His passes are eclectic and on the money. He’s putting together stretches of steals that put him in the category of less than a handful of NBA players in the past 20 years. And that exuberance that brought the Target Center back to life last year? That’s here, too.

Rubio has made it all the way back. Now it’s time for us to sit back, appreciate it and prepare for the day when the rest of the team’s medical situation joins him.

We’re fortunate. We have a player whose court vision and creativity rivals the masses. He sees players coming off pick and rolls and wraps passes around defenders in ways most of us never thought possible. His accuracy on half-court alley-oops can be a thing of beauty. And when he finds a trailing teammate with a bounce pass between his legs as if he has eyes on his back (in his words), it’s a thing of beauty.

I’ve been doing some interviews with media members around the world for a piece on the Wolves’ international perception and marketability, and one thing is true: The world loves this man. We all know fans in Spain wait up all hours of the night to watch the Wolves. But across the world he’s identifiable and beloved. In Australia, his hairdo has pop culture status. In Japan, they love him for his pass-friendly style. In Germany, his jersey is sold among headliners like LeBron and Kobe.

Those who are halfway around the world clamor to watch Rubio play live. Like us, they can’t believe the things he does and they wonder what is coming next. We Minnesotans get to see him play every night in our own back yard. We can see him play live, and we can certainly appreciate the type of energy he brings to an arena because, well, we’ve felt what it’s like without him.

Rest assured, as we just passed the one-year anniversary of Rubio’s injury that he’s turned the corner and moved on. Almost nightly he gets questions about how he’s feeling, how he’s recovering from what was a serious knee injury. Rubio’s answers are cookie cutter at this point. He’s moved on. It was one of the toughest challenges of his life, one that kept him off the court for longer than he’d been seemingly since he began walking.

But one year later, he’s playing some of the best basketball of his NBA career. There should be no doubts about if Rubio will return and be the same player he was. He’s done it. The next step for him personally is working on other areas of his game and becoming an even better player. It’s incredible to think where he can go.

Tonight, injuries will again change the complexion of this Wolves team’s starting lineup. But Rubio will be introduced, he will play and he will likely do something that makes everyone in the arena question what they just saw.

Fans, Ricky Rubio is back. Grab the popcorn.


For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Timberwolves and Mark Remme on Twitter, and join the conversation at WolvesNation.com.