Before this ongoing second impression takes them both to Los Angeles for Monday’s game against the Clippers, new Timberwolves teammates Ricky Rubio and Kevin Garnett each made a big first one on the other right there in Los Angeles also.
It was fall 2011, during a labor lockout when players didn’t go back to work until Christmas Day. Having lived near Barcelona all his life, Rubio came to California from Spain that October to acclimate himself to a new country, a new league and a new life, mostly through daily pickup games with and against dozens of NBA veterans.
Included often in those games was a guy named Garnett, who drove over from his Malibu summer home to a suburban Los Angeles gym.
Rubio matched up against and learned a thing or two about point guard positioning and body control from the likes of NBA champions Chauncey Billups and Derek Fisher.
He learned something about the difference between what’s deemed a traveling violation in Europe and what’s one in his new league from Garnett, who barked at him when Garnett determined the newcomer had carried the ball.
Garnett also showed him something about respecting your elders when youngster Jordan Crawford talked too much trash to Garnett one day and didn’t heed other players’ warning to back away. Garnett responded by whacking Crawford upside the head.
In another gesture, Garnett also took Rubio aside and praised Minnesota’s fans and the state as a splendid place to start an NBA career.
“I was kind of scared, but he was on my team,” Rubio said. “That was good.”
Then there were days when Garnett was an opponent.
“Sometimes he was on the other team, and I didn’t even look at him,” Rubio said. “I was scared. He was talking trash, even in a pickup game. I mean, that’s how he is. He likes to win every single game, no matter if it’s official or not. That was a great impression for me.”
Rubio made an impression as well on Garnett, who has been known to greet European players transitioning to the NBA with tough love.
“I played with Ricky in the summer, spent a lot of time,” Garnett said. “When he first came over here, I got to see some of his skill level, just in the summer with no pressure or nothing. The first thing you see right away is his IQ and his ability to see the play before it happens.”
Garnett has seen that kind of intelligence and instincts in a point guard before. He once played with a guy named Rajon Rondo in Boston.
“Those are the special ones,” Garnett said. “Those are the ones who can see rotations, know the NBA is really fast at this level. The fact he’s able to not only see it before it happens, but he’s already making a decision what he’s going to do with the ball, that’s the first thing that stands out. His IQ is through the roof; reminds me of Rondo a lot.”
Garnett now is the guy in the Wolves’ locker room who has seen it all, done it all and told Rubio and his teammates that the lack of energy and/or effort in Wednesday’s home loss to Denver is unacceptable. On Saturday, the Wolves went out and defeated Portland 121-113.
“KG, he’s a mentor for all of us,” Rubio said. “He has been in this league a long time. He knows how it works. You can have one night when you’re not feeling it, but you have to respond the next night.”
The Wolves responding Saturday, beating the Trail Blazers at Target Center for the second time this season, thanks in part to Rubio’s clutch three-point shot with a minute remaining.
Garnett responded to Rubio’s response with a celebratory shove as Rubio came off the floor after the Blazers called timeout trailing 109-102.
“I’ve been working on that shot,” said Rubio, who embraced shooting coach Mike Penberthy once he reached the bench. “A great situation and a great moment and I took it. I can practice a lot, but if I don’t take any of the shots it’s not going to work. So I took it and it went down.”