NBA draft, 2009. It is the draft for which I have the most vivid memory. A day before, the Wolves had traded Mike Miller and Randy Foye to the Washington Wizards for the fifth pick in the draft, pairing that with their own sixth pick.
It was the highlight of David Kahn’s career as the Wolves general manager. Miller and Foye were not pushing the Wolves toward winning, and top talent was in short supply in Minnesota. Getting another high draft pick for guys who were not needle movers was tremendous.
It put the Wolves in play for one of the top talents that year, though at the time of the trade it wasn’t clear who would be available at number five. After consensus top pick Blake Griffin, the next few picks were in some flux. Wing players Tyreke Evans and James Harden, along with big man Hasheem Thabeet and Rubio were seen as the next four best talents.
I remember Thabeet being the one guy I didn’t want left at 5th. I also remember rumors that the Wolves might try to move up further. I remember Jerry Zgoda trolling fans by suggesting Thabeet was the guy they wanted.
Mostly I remember watching it play out and talking on the phone with my best friend when Rubio was the pick. The guy we wanted, the legend from Spain, the floppy haired Olympian with a magician’s vision and passing talent.
(I also remember that five glorious minutes when I thought they were going to wind up with both Rubio and Stephen Curry, but alas...)
Kahn immediately poured some cold water on the excitement by telling us that Rubio might stay in Europe for a while, which in fact is what happened. He spent two seasons with powerhouse Barcelona, winning a Euroleague title but having his ups and downs with a veteran, deep club.
The lockout delayed his debut even more, with the 2011-12 season not starting until the day after Christmas.
They opened at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Rubio came off the bench, and the Wolves ultimately lost 104-100. Rubio played 26 minutes, had a 6-5-6 line, but you could absolutely see what was to come:
His passing chops were obvious. His defensive ability was on display. He even made a foul line jumper to give the Wolves their last lead of the game.
The Wolves lost, as they would for the entirely of his Wolves career, but Ricky brought a style and excitement to Target Center from his first game.