If I want to do something in this life, it’s to make this world better. One of the ways is impacting the kids by letting them have fun but at the same time teaching them some values. —Ricky Rubio
FARMINGTON — It’s three hours before tipoff.
A long-haired, 6-foot-4 Spaniard strolls into an unlikely place in a black Adidas sweat suit.
While most of his Utah Jazz teammates are performing their pregame routines nearly 20 miles away to prepare for the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday in Salt Lake City, Ricky Rubio makes a spontaneous trip to the Farmington Recreation Center.
The Jazz floor general uses the time to interact with kids enrolled in his Ricky Rubio Academy.
He wastes no time providing instructions, signing autographs, jumping in for a game of lightning and handing out four free tickets to each participant.
For that brief moment, the 27-year-old isn’t worrying about wins and losses, his shooting percentage, turnovers or any other critique of his game.
He’s just plain old Ricky.
The same kid who was once in their shoes not too long ago — growing up in El Masnou, Spain. Being in that space is a breath of fresh air.
“It is a big impact when you see the kids enjoying it and you remember why you play basketball because you love basketball,” Rubio said, while surveying the action. “It’s amazing.”
Later that night, Rubio helps the Jazz win their second straight game against the Bucks, 121-108. He posts 11 points while distributing seven of the Jazz’s 31 assists, which ties a season-high. His pair of threes also contributed to the new franchise record of 18 made 3-pointers in a single game.
“I think he has settled in, as far as offensively where he’s not pressing on his shot,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “He is taking his shot when he’s open and making good decisions. You can feel his presence on the floor.”
While the pass-first guard is still learning his new role in Utah, averaging a career-best 12.9 points, what’s more impressive is the impact he’s making in the community. In addition to his basketball and leadership academy, Rubio is using his basketball influence to drive change.
He donated 100 tickets for Special Olympics Utah athletes for Saturday’s game, met with cancer survivors in a suite, and distributed golden “Ricky Rubio Lung Cancer Awareness” T-shirts to fans in support of Lung Cancer Awareness Month.
Rubio became adamant about cancer research after losing his mother, Tona Vives, unexpectedly to lung cancer in May 26, 2016, despite her being a non-smoker and living a healthy lifestyle. His ex-Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders also died from cancer at the age of 60 in October 2015.
He has teamed with A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation to launch the Tona Vives Lung Cancer Awareness Fund, which has raised more than $56,000 to date, and he’s contributing to the Jazz’s 5 For The Fight cause through Utah’s corporate sponsor, Qualtrics, to help with innovative cancer research.
Qualtrics sponsors the Jazz’s first uniform patch, but is using its 5 For The Fight logo to encourage supporters to donate $5 for the movement.
Rubio’s lifelong friends and business managers from Spain, Josep Heredia and Lucas Charte-Garcia, are not only translating his values to campers, they also hold him accountable to fulfilling his personal standards. They both live with him near downtown Salt Lake City, close to Vivint Arena, and aren’t afraid to be brutally honest with him at times.
“For him, it’s about reminding him about who he was and who he is,” Charte-Garcia said. “Whenever you get to that point, when players are struggling, it’s always psychological.
Charte-Garcia first met the basketball player when Rubio was the tender age of 4 and has witnessed his entire journey from becoming the youngest player to compete in the top-tier Spanish ACB League at 14 to leaving Minnesota as the Timberwolves’ all-time assists leader and now in Utah.
Joining the Jazz organization after six seasons in Minnesota has been a smooth transition, as the franchise supports his beliefs through the good and bad times on the court.
“You don’t forget how to play basketball, how to make shots and be a player, but you can lose belief in yourself,” Charte-Garcia said. “So it’s about trusting in you and having that confidence level up, so that’s what we do.
“When we’re at home and it’s a good game, we don’t give him a lot of praise because that’s what you’re supposed to do, but when it’s a bad game, it’s like ‘suck it up, man up and remember who you were,’” he added. “That’s not pressure, that’s responsibility. You have a gift.”
At this point in Rubio’s life, basketball is only a small fraction of his bigger cause. There’s a bigger purpose behind No. 3 for the Jazz.
“If I want to do something in this life, it’s to make this world better,” Rubio said. “One of the ways is impacting the kids by letting them have fun but at the same time teaching them some values.”