Ricky Rubio Delivers Assist to Cancer Support Community Arizona

Ricky Rubio
by Cody Cunningham

The Phoenix Suns surprised more than 100 non-profit organizations throughout the Valley with charitable donations on Thursday as the team continues to show support for the community that supports them. As part of the “Rise Together” campaign, Robert Sarver, the Suns and Phoenix Suns Charities are investing $10 million in Phoenix non-profits and City programs before the end of the calendar year. 

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego officially proclaimed Oct. 17, 2019 as “Rise Together Day” in the City of Phoenix in honor of the Suns’ commitment to assisting our community.

“On the eve of their 52nd season, the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Suns Charities, with heartfelt gratitude for guidance from city leaders, will provide funding today to more than 100 deserving non-profits to continue their good work in our community because when one of us rises, all of rise,” Gallego said.

Suns players, alumni and staff ventured out into the city delivering checks, donations and smiles to deserving organizations across the entire city. For one player, the positive impact of “Rise Together Day” was especially significant and personal.

Ricky Rubio helped present $50,000 to Cancer Support Community Arizona, an organization committed to ensuring that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action and sustained by community. They offer 100-plus programs each month, including health & nutrition, support groups, therapeutic arts, education seminars & workshops, youth/teen & family programs and fun community events, all led by licensed mental health professionals and designed to boost the immune system.

While this was a special day of giving back, for Rubio, the support for Cancer Support Community Arizona aligns with his own dedication to cancer research and supporting families and patients impacted by the disease.

This was a promise he made to his mother years ago, and now he carries on in her honor.

In May 2016, Rubio lost his mother, Tona Vives, after a four-year battle with lung cancer. She was just 56 years old. During her final days, she had just one request for her son.

“She made me promise that I was going to help a lot of people because I had the tools," Rubio told The Athletic. "We’re in a good spot in the NBA and we can bring awareness to a lot of people and can bring joy to a lot of families just by saying hi to a kid or telling them that they’re coming to a game, and it’s on me. Whatever it takes for that family to feel good in a tough moment.”

It was from then on that Rubio committed his life to cancer awareness initiatives and helping those battling the disease.

“My mom was about giving back and taking care of the people,” Rubio said to The Athletic. “That was one of her strengths. I want to keep her legacy and that’s my way to do it.”

Rubio is no stranger to the heartbreak that cancer can inflict on an individual and families. When Ricky was 10, his grandmother passed away due to liver cancer. Two years later, his grandfather passed away due to lung cancer. A few months after losing his mother, his coach on the Minnesota Timberwolves, Flip Saunders, passed away from Hodgkins lymphoma. 

“Sharing that pain with the family and knowing they are not alone and there is more people behind them, it’s super important,” Rubio told The Athletic.

“You learn a lot when you go through that,” Rubio said to the Salt Lake Tribune. “Putting awareness to everybody before it happens — if I can just save one life, that’s enough. It’s about having the right resources for people to find out ahead of time.”

Rubio has displayed his commitment to the cause through his charitable efforts and donations to organizations including 5 for the Fight Foundation, Wishes & More and Volunteers of America while also teaming up with A Breath of Hope Foundation to open the Tona Vives Cancer Awareness fund, just to name a few.

“I’m trying to give back to the community, to the people who really need that,” Rubio told the Salt Lake Tribune. “I’m in a privileged spot. I’ve got to use that. With money, by spreading the word to everybody. It’s not an easy world. We are here together to fight together.” 

His efforts haven’t slowed down since signing with the Suns this offseason. Just after taking home gold at the FIBA World Cup and being named MVP of the tournament, Rubio traveled back to Barcelona to a hospital he was all too familiar with.

Rubio was on hand to unveil a newly renovated room, “Urban Oasis,” at Dexeus University Hospital, the same room he and his mother used to visit throughout her treatment.

“I spent many hours in this room with my mother and I couldn't recognize it today,” Rubio said at the inauguration, per FIBA.basketball. “It doesn't look like a hospital waiting room. Not everything can be bad news for patients in bad rooms. If you can have some distraction for a few minutes, all the better. My mother would have been prouder to see me unveil this room than to have won the World Cup."

As someone who has been in that room wishing for positive news, it was important for him that future patients and their families could experience a more uplifting atmosphere in the hardest of times. The room was dedicated to Javier Claver, the father of his Spanish teammate Victor Claver, who passed away from cancer in 2011.

"Ricky was the MVP of the World Cup, but he is also an MVP for launching these initiatives," Victor Claver was quoted by the CloseUp360.com. "My family and I are grateful for his gesture of naming the room after my father. He is an example of how you can transcend beyond than the hardwood."

With less than a week until his first game with the Suns tips-off in Phoenix, Rubio took some time to help distribute a significant donation and spread awareness about a cause that means everything to him.

“Playing for the Suns is great, but it's connecting to the community,” Rubio said. “When I signed for Suns, of course I watched the team and I watched what kind of a team and the players we had, but at the same time, the other stuff that I asked my team to do is go around and see how we can impact and help the community.”

Cancer Support Community Arizona was under the impression they would be receiving a visit from Suns President and CEO Jason Rowley, but the extent of the visit was not initially revealed. Cancer Support Community Arizona CEO Debbie DiCarlo gave Rowley a tour through one of the buildings, unaware of what was waiting on the other side.

Ricky Rubio, Go the Gorilla and Suns staff members surprised DiCarlo and Cancer Support Community Arizona staff members with a check for $50,000.

“That was a surprise and, you know, it's just huge,” DiCarlo said. “We have the support of the Phoenix Suns in our community and our efforts to make an increased quality of life for families who are facing a very difficult cancer diagnosis.” 

While just being there and presenting the check was something truly special for their organization, the new point guard in Phoenix took it a step further. Following the patients’ mediation session, Rubio asked if he could speak to the group. 

Not only was he able to share his personal connection with cancer, but he was able to ensure them that they weren’t alone on their journey. Along with offering tickets to Suns game along with a guided mediation app called “Headspace” to the patients, he also offered his friendship.

“It's so important that he was here, but it was also like he wanted to connect with them in a way that was tangible and made a difference,” DiCarlo said. “To show that he is with them, not just in charity, but with them in relationship. That's huge. He's made a huge difference to us."

Cancer Support Community Arizona helps those suffering with cancer as well as their families and provides a homelike environment throughout their journey. Similar to the room that the Ricky Rubio Foundation renovated back in Spain, Cancer Support Community Arizona is focused on providing comfort and education for patients and their families.

“My mom had cancer and passed away three years ago and we went through a lot of hospitals and a lot of places,” Rubio said. “Having a house like that just to really inform patients with either meditation or good nutrition, a lot of things that they do here. Having a little library here to really chill and reconnect again, I think that's a lot of things that I can bring back home.” 

The environment that Cancer Support Community Arizona has created in their building is the same one they hope to take on the road thanks to the donation from Phoenix Suns Charities. 

“It's huge, because we're working to put this model of what's here on-the-go,” DiCarlo said. “This survivorship on-the-go mobile will hit all parts of Arizona where folks don't have access to this kind of care in their own hometown. Just like the Phoenix Suns can be broadcasted everywhere in Arizona, our goal is to hit all the different avenues in Arizona and offer support.” 

While this marked Rubio’s first community event in Phoenix, it is just the beginning for other charitable initiatives throughout the Valley as the season unfolds.

“Being in the NBA now for nine years and always trying to connect with the community first, because at the end of the day, it's our whole team,” Rubio said. “It's not the team that we have in the arena. It's the whole city. They support us. We've got to support them. We're in a position that we can help as an organization, as the players. This cause really impacted my life and I'm trying to help as many people as I can in this area.”

Recognizing the greater impact that can be achieved through teamwork, the Suns launched the “Rise Together” campaign in an effort to continuing supporting organizations that help those that need it most throughout our community.

“Today was the launch of our "Rise Together" campaign and really what's anchoring this is our $10 million commitment to Phoenix-based charities,” Rowley said. “It's something we've also involved our employee base in, which is something that I view to be very, very critical to this. It's going out today to a hundred different charities and making various levels of donations. To me, to be able to bring out all employees, to bring out our new point guard, Ricky Rubio, to be able to see the kind of work we do in the community is something that I'm extremely proud of and very passionate about. I think that it's something that I hope people see and it sets an example in the community for others to follow.”

The official “Rise Together Day” may just be on Oct. 17, but the initiative is just getting started. The Suns will continue their charitable efforts throughout the season as the organization shows their continued support to help lift the Phoenix community that supports them.

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