When news broke that the knee injury Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio suffered in the closing seconds of Friday night's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers was a torn ACL that will knock him out for the rest of his rookie season and prevent him from starting at the point for the Spanish national basketball team during this summer's Olympics in London, just about everyone was bummed out.
Fans far and wide lamented the loss of one of the league's brightest and most exciting young stars. A host of Rubio's NBA peers took to Twitter to express their sympathies and wish the gifted freshman a full, speedy recovery. Perhaps the coolest sign of support, though, came from George Karl.
The Denver Nuggets head coach wore the colors of the legendary Spanish soccer side FC Barcelona in Rubio's honor on Sunday, sporting a Barça shirt to his media session before the Nuggets faced the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday. Rubio played for the Barcelona sports club's basketball team from 2009 through 2011 before coming over to the U.S. to join the Timberwolves this offseason, earning recognition as the Spanish ACB League's top point guard and Most Spectacular Player in 2010.
The coach's comments were brief — "I feel bad for Ricky Rubio," according to Lindsay H. Jones of the Denver Post — but the gesture spoke volumes about the level of respect that Karl, one of just seven coaches in NBA history with more than 1,000 career wins, has for the young Spanish lead guard's talents.
Karl has some history in Spanish basketball. He coached Spanish club Real Madrid in the late 1980s and early 1990s, leading squads featuring top European players like Fernando Martín, who had just returned to Real after a stint with the Portland Trail Blazers that made him the first Spaniard ever to play in the NBA.
After two seasons with Real, Karl came back to the states to lead the Seattle SuperSonics, where he got to know a thing or two about coaching pretty special young point guards. Today, Karl's Nuggets feature talented reserve swingman Rudy Fernandez, Rubio's teammate on the Spanish national team, who paid tribute to Martín in the 2009 Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star Weekend.
There may be some Real Madrid fans who aren't particularly thrilled with Karl's choice of tops, what with the eternal feud between the two clubs' football sides, but hopefully most will appreciate the veteran coach's kind salute to a fallen youngster.
As for that fallen youngster, Rubio seems determined to maintain a positive outlook as he recovers from his injury. On Monday afternoon, he tweeted a photo that showed him riding an exercise bike, smiling and sticking his tongue out in a room decorated with a framed Wally Szczerbiak jersey. If that's not an environment conducive to healing, I don't know what is.