Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Ricky Rubio treats young Spanish fan fighting cancer to a Utah Jazz game at Madison Square Garden
Ricky Rubio had finished his postgame interviews inside the visitors’ locker room at Madison Square Garden when someone had one more pressing question.
“How did you feel playing this game?” 12-year-old Luca de la Vega asked. “Was it easy? Or hard?”
“There’s nothing easy in the NBA,” the Jazz point guard said.
No matter how challenging the NBA season gets, though, Rubio knows some things are bigger than basketball. That’s why the Jazz point guard wanted Luca at the Garden with him this week. Rubio flew Luca and his family from Spain to New York City to watch the Jazz take on the Knicks on Wednesday night, part of a yearlong plan to help Luca and his family in the wake of the boy’s cancer diagnosis.
“You can make a big impact in the world,” Rubio told Jazz sideline reporter Kristen Kenney. “We’re not just playing basketball. It’s bigger than that. We can use that to help people.”
Rubio knows, all to well, cancer’s impact. In 2016, Rubio lost his mother, Tona Vives, to the disease. And so Rubio felt a strong connection to Luca, whom he met through one of his former coach’s in Spain.
Luca plays basketball for Unió Esportiva Mataró in Spain. Last year, he suffered a painful cramp in his left shoulder. Fainting spells followed. Eventually, a series of X-rays revealed a flooded lung and Lymphoblastic Lymphoma, cancer he has been fighting since May 2018.
Luca is about to begin six months of intensive treatments. Before that happened, Rubio wanted the young boy to experience the joy of a game at Madison Square Garden. Luca rebounded for Rubio during warmups, received a customized City Edition jersey, enjoyed a Jazz victory and made his way to the locker room for Rubio’s postgame interviews.
“We can help people,” Rubio said in that locker room. “That’s one of my goals, one of the promises I made to my mom. I doing it because of her and because I like helping people. Going through what I went through, I know that a lot of people with cancer in this world are going through hard times. The whole family—I want them to experience joy in the tough moments.”