The Timberwolves placed T-shirts upon every Target Center seat before Friday's game against the Los Angeles Lakers, promoting a "white-out" that kicked off their new season-ticket campaign and celebrated a pulsating new era in franchise history driven by rising young stars Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.
On Saturday, 19,000 black shirts might have better fit the mood for the game against New Orleans. The Wolves learned Rubio will miss the rest of his rookie season and this summer's Olympic Games because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee suffered late in Friday's loss to the Lakers.
Rubio planted his left leg while trying to defend Kobe Bryant, his knee appeared to buckle and he ended up on the floor clutching that knee in pain while also whistled for a foul that Bryant turned into the winning points in a 105-102 loss.
The Wolves not only lost the game on that play, they also lost their starting point guard, a rookie from Spain who has helped restore the franchise to relevance and turned their season into something of a traveling rock show because of the joy with which he plays, his boyish good looks and international appeal.
"We're not the first team in the league to have a star player incur an injury, it happens," Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn said. "It happens in our sport all the time, as unfortunate as it may be. What's important to me is we still have a lot of season left to play. We are still in the thick of things."
With Rubio, the Wolves won more games than they lost, established themselves as a playoff contender for the first time since 2004 and felt good enough about their resurgence in the local sports marketplace that they built their new ticket campaign upon the phrase, "Get your season tickets now or someone else will."
Without him, the Wolves will depend on veterans Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea and rookie Malcolm Lee at point guard for their final 25 games and, with the NBA trade deadline looming on Thursday, likely will look for another ballhandler. Kahn said the team will make a move by then only if it doesn't jeopardize the franchise's long-term future.
Without him, they're lacking a good bit of their sizzle.
"It's a big loss for us," Love said. "He makes winning plays, he's a winner. We love having him around. We hope for a speedy recovery so he can help this team next year."
Rehabilitation time for such an injury usually is six to nine months, which means Rubio also will miss playing for Spain in the London Olympics that begin in late July.
Rubio is the third Wolves player in the past four seasons to have a torn ACL end his season. Both Al Jefferson and Corey Brewer returned the next season, but it took Jefferson, especially, nearly that next entire season to return to his pre-injury level of play.
Rubio did not attend Saturday's game at Target Center and he was not available for comment, but he did send a message via his Twitter account. He thanked everybody for their support and said, "I promise I will be back soon and stronger. There is only one way to take: move forward and stay positive."
An MRI test conducted Saturday morning revealed the ligament tear. Shortly thereafter, Rubio shared the news at Target Center with Love, some of his other teammates and coach Rick Adelman.
Not long after that, NBA stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant and Spanish national teammate Pau Gasol all tweeted their best wishes to Rubio for a speedy recovery.
"Disappointed," Adelman said when asked about Rubio's mood. "That's the worst part about it. We're all disappointed. I'm really disappointed for him. He's having a great year and we're going to miss him."
The Wolves will play on without him, with Ridnour now their starting point guard and Martell Webster promoted to the second starting backcourt job with the Wolves about to head out on a seven-game, 13-day trip that could define their season, starting Monday in Phoenix.
Adelman started Rubio and Ridnour together in a small backcourt because he felt he needed their ballhandling more than he needed more size. He said he'll still play Ridnour and Barea together once Barea returns next week from a sprained ankle but doesn't believe he can start a small backcourt now that Rubio is lost until next October at least.
"I told them today you don't have time to get down," Adelman said, referring to his team before it lost Saturday night to a 9-31 Hornets team. "You can't when you get injuries in this league. The teams that respond are usually the teams that are ready for guys to step in. I don't see why we have to change that.
"We're still in it. I don't see any reason to back away from that. There's no reason we can't win games. That's what we have to do. It's no different than before."