Souhan: Wolves' Rubio displays a work ethic worth emulating

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 8, 2013 - 7:12 AM
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Tyson Chandler defended as Ricky Rubio drove to the basket at Target Center.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Ricky Rubio is fast becoming a fire hazard. Nobody so bony, with that much hair, should be creating that much friction with the hardwood.

If he keeps playing the way he has the past two games, diving on the floor for loose balls and physically confronting larger players, he may usurp the Spinal Tap drummer as the most notable public figure to spontaneously combust.

While local teams haven’t raised many banners lately, Minnesotans continue to be blessed with that rare breed: the maximum-effort professional sports star.

We loved Kirby Puckett as a player because he never let anyone down with a lack of hustle. He ran out every ground ball he ever hit, even in the eighth inning of road spring training games.

We loved Cris Carter as a player because he cared so much. When going over the middle, his arms were more Doc Ock than alligator.

We loved Kevin Garnett because his diva tendencies didn’t reveal themselves on the court, where he was more likely to cuss in competitive fury than lapse on defense.

Rubio came advertised as a fancy passer with a boy-band look. That was accurate. We have learned that there is much more to him. He is a relentless defender who looked more comfortable guarding LeBron James than 99 percent of NBA players. He is willing to test his surgically repaired knee with headlong dives to the court in pursuit of a loose ball in meaningless games.

Rubio’s fire offers hope that, when combined with a healthy Kevin Love and Chase Budinger, his grit will be rewarded.

He isn’t the only star local athlete whose style of play is substantive.

In terms of sheer effort, Adrian Peterson’s ability to rehabilitate a shredded knee, and his willingness to push himself through that and other injuries to lead his team to the playoffs last year, is historic.

While Zach Parise’s play hasn’t been uniformly brilliant, his effort has been. He is the embodiment of the hockey ethic Mike Yeo and other coaches talk about nightly — the willingness to battle in corners and assault the net.

We expect much of our athletes, because of their earning power and their willingness to put themselves on stage. They invite scrutiny whether they realize it or not.

Human nature causes many stars to think their talent is more important than their work ethic, and often those players are generously rewarded. Randy Moss likes to say he is the greatest receiver in NFL history. He is confusing talent with accomplishment. The man he could never surpass, Jerry Rice, elevated a franchise with his diligence.

What the Wolves have to hope is that Kevin Love has used the time rehabilitating his broken hand to contemplate Rubio’s play and Love’s place in the league.

Love has become a better player than anyone expected. Love deserves credit for the sweat equity that chiseled pounds off his once-pudgy body and turned an iffy midrange jump shooter into a three-point threat. Love has become a star in the league. When he returns to the court in the coming weeks, he has to decide whether he wants to be a star like Rubio, or a star like Moss.

Love has spent far too much time the past two seasons lagging behind the play, complaining about foul calls or looking uninterested in defense. He’s better than that. When playing for the U.S. Olympic team, he pushed himself through every minute played, whether because of the stage or the influence of his teammates. He became a key defender, even shutting down Pau Gasol, in a tough matchup, during the deciding minutes of the gold medal game.

Love has become a popular national figure. He’s a glib guy with a great back story. He’s an overachiever. He donates lots of time to charitable initiatives. He’s personable and funny.

If he wants to be beloved in Minnesota — if that is anywhere on his to-do list — all he has to do is emulate Rubio just a little, and get his no-longer-chubby rear end back on defense, every time.

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