Ricky Rubio has a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of the 2011-12 NBA season. We're way past the days when an ACL could end a career, which is good. Still, Rubio's injury pretty much guarantees the Timberwolves won't make the playoffs, obliterates all the buzz and outside interest that the team had going this season, and robs the NBA of one of its most exciting, and least risky, young attractions. Jeremy Lin is a good player in a shaky situation. Ricky Rubio is an incandescent, undeniable talent. His game is pure beauty, in most Euro-sporting sense, and even the most hetero dude has to acknowledge his baby-faced, shaggy-haired charm. Sidenote: Along with Monta Ellis, he is my baby's favorite athlete to see in close-up on the television set.
Still, none of this quite explains why the immediate reaction to Rubio's news was so pained. It's being taken as a tragedy, a cosmic offense perpetuated not against the Wolves, but we, the viewers. No one wants an NBA without Ricky Rubio; without him, we run the risk of being plunged back into an unhappy place where the comparative evil of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, and the careerist angling of Dwight Howard, are the major plot points from day-to-day. Lin may have already been swamped by Knicks dysfunction, which is to say, his net effect has been forcing us all to talk about the Knicks' problems way more than we want to. Rubio was a tonic, that spark that reminded us that the game could be pure, unadulterated fun (pour one out for the days when LeBron filled this role). Especially in the wake of the lockout, the NBA is very often a cold, cynical league. Rubio, whose debut was barely on the radar in those grueling months of waiting, was a sign. Basketball wasn't wounded. It was this kid's playground, so how rotten could things be?
Rubio was so welcome, so blinding, that Kevin Love's contract debacle, and the serial bungling of David Kahn's front office, fell by the wayside. Rubio conquered all. The Wolves could easily have become a symbol for the NBA's problems, an illustration of just how little the new CBA solved, in the same way that the Kings have almost entirely ceased to stand for their young talent. Instead, we all shook our heads, then waited to get back to the continued adventures of Ricky Rubio, boy wonder.
Half-full, he was saving this NBA season, doing the real work underneath the din of Linsanity. Half-empty, he was the opiate of the NBA-watching masses, providing an exaggerated, if not illusory, sense of well-being while really, he repaired nothing and kept us from realizing just how grimly fucked basketball still is. And just maybe, how ugly and self-defeating our feelings about other, more established stars have become.