Growing Up: Ricky Rubio

Over the years, we’ve done dozens of Growing Up features on Cavs.com. It’s a different way to get to know the guys. 

Almost all of them “played up” on their way through the ranks – facing off against older competition due to their advanced skillset. But maybe none of them were fast-tracked like Ricky Rubio, who famously began his professional playing career at age 14. 

Now in his 12th NBA season, the crafty Spaniard’s second with the Wine & Gold, there’s nothing on the hardwood that Rubio hasn’t seen during his literal lifetime of hoops. He made his Spanish League debut at age 14, faced off against the “Redeem Team” in the gold medal game of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and one year later became the first player born in the ‘90s to be drafted by the NBA.   

Rubio was selected with the 5th overall pick in the 2009 Draft by Minnesota, and his reputation for flashy passing preceded him into the league. He played two more seasons with Barcelona, winning the EuroLeague title in 2010, before finally joining the Timberwolves in 2011. 

Now 33, Rubio has had two separate stints with Minnesota, along with stops in Utah, Phoenix and Indiana (kind of) before making his way back to Cleveland. And after rehabbing from knee surgery for the better part of this year, the 6-3, 190-pounder returned on January 12 in Portland and has played in nine games since, still trying to get his legs and shake off some rust. 

But before we look ahead to the rest of Rubio’s redux in Cleveland, here’s a look back at how he’s been carrying those massive expectations since he was just a kid.

I come from … an athletic family. My dad was a coach. He played too, but he was a coach – and we went to watch him coach all the time when I was two or three years old. I’ve seen pictures of me bouncing the ball around the house. 

Basketball has always been … in my family. It’s something that my older brother played, and my younger sister plays as well. My older brother was a shooter, and my sister was a point guard.

I also played … soccer growing up.  When you’re young over there, you play soccer all the time. 

Actually, when I was 10 years old … I was playing both soccer and basketball. And I had to pick one or the other. And I picked soccer. My family didn’t say anything. But after two or three months, I said: ‘Mom, I don’t like it. I miss basketball.’ So, I went back to basketball. 

Basketball is just … something that runs in the family. I picked soccer because all my friends in school played. But at the end of the day, basketball won. 

Since I was really young … I’ve had that gift of basketball. I always played with older players. I remember when I was 10, I was playing with my brother’s team, which was two years older. And then when I was 14, almost 15, I signed with the club that I played professionally for – Joventut in Barcelona. 

Playing professionally at that age … I did have to sacrifice a lot. All of my friends were going to prom night and all that stuff. And I missed that. But it was just a different lifestyle for me. And I wouldn’t take it back, of course. 

In some ways, I missed my childhood … but it made me who I am today. And I’m enjoying every minute now – and I remember having a blast when I was young. 

I was able to avoid a lot of distractions at that age … because of my parents and their values. 

Being humble … is my dad’s most important value. He would always say: ‘The day you think you know enough is the day you stop learning.’ And that’s something that I’ve always lived by. I try to live by the values of my family. 

But I also give a lot of credit to … my first head coach as a professional. He let me go to school instead of skipping school for practice. He always let me do that – and that always humbled me as well. 

I wasn’t as big and strong … as some of the grown men I was playing against. But I feel like I’ve always been mentally very mature. I knew the game of basketball. I knew how I could be effective even if I wasn’t strong enough to play with them, but I always feel like playing smart basketball always put me in a good spot. 

I remember some … of my dunks; I don’t have a lot of them. I remember in Europe U-16, one particular in-game dunk. It wasn’t on the fastbreak; it was during a play in the halfcourt. I can count the dunks that I’ve had on a halfcourt play – and not on the fastbreak – on one hand. So, it’s something that I remember. 

In that tournament … I was with the U-16 team, and in the championship game, I had 51 points and we won in overtime. And I hit the halfcourt shot that sent the game into overtime. It was a special moment. A special tournament. 

Not all players … are successful after being that good that young. There’s a lot of factors at play. There’s the timing of your career. You can be a prodigy, but be stuck with a bad team or a bad coach. Injuries can play a big part. 

At that age … the keys are preparation. Ambition. Wanting it more. Not being satisfied. Being humble. 

There’s not a secret formula … and everyone is unique and has their own path. Because you’re 16 or 17 and the best on your team doesn’t mean anything. You have to keep working. And if you’re the worst player on your team, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to make it. Talent doesn’t mean anything without hard work. And sometimes hard work beats talent. 

For me … it was that I always wanted more, never being satisfied with what I’ve done. I wanted to keep going. 

I guess I’ve always been …. a flashy player. 

Basketball has to be fun … not just for me, but for my teammates and for the fans. I always like doing it in a natural way – I don’t overdo it – but in a way that’s fun. I like flashy passes. That’s who I am, that’s what makes me. 

And I know … being a professional, that you have to be a little more mature, more controlled. But I’m never going to lose the kid inside of me who loves doing that stuff.