The Utah Jazz made one of the biggest trades in franchise history earlier this week. With the recent news of them trading for Mike Conley, they’ve been thrown into the conversation as a potential contender for next season, among the Western Conferences’ toughest potential squads. This is undoubtedly one of, if not the biggest move the Jazz have ever made to bring in a star NBA player. It’s an extremely exciting time to be a Jazz fan. Amid all of the excitement, the welcome tweets, the analysis, and the jersey swaps, there’s a part of this transaction that puts a bit of a damper on the situation. With the Jazz bringing in Mike Conley, it pretty much makes it official that they are moving on from Ricky Rubio.
After the news broke earlier in the week, Rubio posted a picture with the caption “Thank you Utah, which all but confirms that he will not be returning to the Utah Jazz.
While it was happening, The Ricky Rubio Experience in Utah was an incredible ride. We saw a dude come in with a chip on his shoulder from an emotional departure from the team that drafted him in Minnesota. We saw a guy that over went a bit of a re-branding or transformation, growing his hair and beard long, and getting several new tattoos that carried immense personal significance. We saw a guy fall in love with his new team, his new fans, and his new city. Ricky Rubio played his heart out for the two years he was in Utah, and he deserves nothing but love and respect from every single Jazz fan.
Rubio’s peak as a Jazz man game during the 2018 NBA Playoffs, a moment that is cemented in one of the most incredible playoff moments for the Jazz franchise, and one of the most incredible moments in sports I’ve ever witnessed with my own eyes.
It was game three of the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs of the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder series. Tied at one game a piece, the Jazz were at home for a critical playoff game. Jazz fans filled the arena ahead of tipoff in their red, yellow, and orange “city” colors, which were a tribute to Utah’s beautiful and notorious red rock mountains. The feeling in the air was absolutely electric, something that you only can taste during playoff basketball.
The game started out on a roller coaster that featured a 10-2 Jazz run and a 12-2 Thunder run both in the opening quarter. The Jazz found themselves down 12 in the 2nd quarter, and you could sense a bit of nervousness in the crowd that just an hour before was oozing energy and confidence. The Jazz were on their heels at home in the playoffs, which is never a great sign.
But then, the magic started.
The Ricky Rubio game, a story that will be told forever amongst Jazz fans, was born.
Rubio drew a foul and made one of the free-throws.
He assisted a three-pointer from Royce O’Neale.
He hit a mid-range jumper.
He got a stop and a defensive rebound.
He drew another foul and made both free-throws.
He forced Russell Westrbook into a miss and got another rebound.
He missed a three, followed his shot and got an offensive rebound, and sank a jumper.
He made another jumper.
He drilled a three that gave the Jazz the lead.
He got another rebound.
He pump-faked and drew a foul on a three-point shot.
And then something happened. Something, that as a lifelong sports fan, I’ve never really seen before.
As he gathered himself before heading to the free-throw line, he looked up into the crowd and somehow seemed to stare every single fan right in the eyes. He raised his hands to the crowd, and made a gesture that seemed to say “I hear you”. As he made it to the free-throw line, a chant broke out. “RU-BI-O, RU-BI-O, RU-BI-O”. 18,306 strong, chanting in unison. Rubio seemed unfazed by the moment, totally comfortable, as if he had known this was coming. In this moment, this man connected with an entire fanbase. Somehow, through a different dimension of basketball, he touched 18,000+ in person, and several hundreds of thousands watching at home on TV. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen watching sports.
Rubio would go on to make all three free-throws with his city behind him, and the Jazz finished the quarter on a 25-8 run. He would finish the game with 26 points, 10 assists, 11 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block, tallying the first playoff triple-double for a Jazz man in the last 17 years, and just the third in franchise history. The Jazz would win the game, and go on to win the series, it what created some unforgettable memories for Jazz fans everywhere.
In this moment during this game, everything felt right. It felt like Ricky Rubio was exactly where he belonged, and that he would remain a Jazz man throughout all of the eternities. It seemed too good to be true, and it only took a season to become exactly that.
Rubio was injured in game six of that OKC series, and everything went downhill from there. He struggled to find consistency this past season, something that the Jazz desperately needed given the construction of their roster last season. After another slow start for the Jazz, and some additional struggling on the court, Rubio was involved in trade talks approaching the February deadline. He seemed hurt and offended that his team would be giving up on him, and things were never really the same after that. The hardest thing about Rubio’s departure, is that he genuinely wanted to play in Utah. I don’t ever recall a player verbally expressing how much he loved Utah, and how badly he wanted to play here and be a part of the team, as much as Ricky Rubio did. He said so himself after last season, when asked about where he saw himself in the future.
Unfortunately, as everyone that follows the NBA knows, it’s a business. The Jazz are in win now mode, and unfortunately Ricky’s play over the course of last season didn’t line up with Dennis Lindsey and Co’s plans for a championship. It would have been really cool if Ricky continued to play like he did in that magical game three in the Thunder series in 2018. It would have been amazing to keep him Utah forever as the starting point guard, with him leading the Jazz to a championship. But it just didn’t work out.
I really enjoyed watching Ricky Rubio play in a Jazz uniform. I’m really going to miss him. I loved his style of play, how he commanded on the court, his flash, his mind, his tattoos, his man-bun, his beard. I loved how he developed a relationship with the players on this team. After the departure of Gordon Hayward and George Hill, Jazz fans didn’t know where things were going. Ricky Rubio came in, along with Donovan Mitchell, and healed many of those scars. Rubio was a huge part in what I believe to be the most loveable Jazz team of all time, aka the “chemistry” era. The guys were like brothers, and probably will remain to be regardless of who ends up on which teams across the NBA. It made it that much more enjoyable to see this team win, because you knew they legitimately cared for each other like brothers, and Ricky Rubio is a huge reason for this.
I really appreciated Ricky Rubio’s service in the community. It became a pretty regular occurrence to see pictures of him serving cancer patients in hospitals, mostly in his late mother’s honor. He as always doing good, and for that I’ll always respect him.
Ricky Rubio is a class act! A man with a gentle soul, caring heart and divine spirit. Oh and he’s pretty good on the court too! Thank you for surprising my Mom in the hospital and brightening her day! @rickyrubio9 @marshastrong18— Amy Larsen (@Amy_Larsen777) May 6, 2018
Keep on fighting Mom! @5forthefight_ @utahjazz pic.twitter.com/I7LrU7qmLM
He was an awesome person to cheer for off the court. Whether it was him showing up to events in a retro John Stockton jersey, or covering Maroon 5’s “She will be loved” during the Super Bowl halftime show, the guy was just so much fun to follow.
Ricky Rubio covering Maroon 5 on Donovan’s Insta story pic.twitter.com/G02LnfKqeB— Taylor Griffin (@griffdunk) February 4, 2019
Most of all, I loved how much of his heart Ricky Rubio gave for the Utah Jazz..
It was a short two years, but because of the experience from last year’s playoffs, and many, many more, I’ll always have a spot in my heart for Ricky Rubio, and you should too.