Editor's note: For the much longer, fuller version of this special project, see startribune.com/sports.
In a strange recurring daydream, I'm riding in a car in downtown Minneapolis with Ricky Rubio and a couple of his friends, on the way to what promises to be an amazing night on the town. Through a series of wrong turns, frustrating construction delays and one-way streets, we are making no progress. The trip started at Target Center, and after 30 minutes we pull up once again to 600 First Avenue.
Rubio, who has been singing along to the radio and telling stories, keeping everyone cheerful and generally unaware of the lack of progress, suddenly looks out his window and sees Target Center. His wide eyes narrow and he says with accented exasperation, "Guys, we're right back where we started. What is going on here?"
This daydream is rooted in two facts: 1) Even as a member of the media, I think it would be cool to just ride around in a car with Rubio, because he seems like a genuinely fun and nice person I'd like to get to know better. 2) Because I'm a writer, I've imagined a scenario that would make the perfect opening paragraph to a story about Rubio.
Like the fictional Rubio in the car making no progress and winding up back at Target Center, the basketball version of real-life Rubio has spent the past six years doing the same thing.
On June 20, 2011 — almost exactly six years ago — Rubio arrived at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport to a scene befitting a rock star. He had been drafted by the Wolves with the No. 5 overall pick almost exactly two years before that — June 25, 2009 — as a precocious 18-year-old from Spain. He represented so many things for a franchise that had been through so much losing, but the one-word crystallization of all of it was "hope."
Eight years later — through joy, pain and promise, but ultimately zero playoff berths — Rubio is left with a complicated legacy. If we can return to the daydream one more time: The car is back at Target Center now, but what is its final destination?
To understand that question, though, we need to start at the beginning. So we enlisted the help of experts to help tell the full tale of Rubio from 2009 until now for a special online oral history project. The voices:
• Jon Krawczynski, Associated Press NBA writer. He said of Rubio entering the draft, "He was this exotic, mysterious prospect who didn't get intimidated against Team USA as an 18-year-old in the Olympics and who whipped crazy passes through traffic on grainy YouTube videos. That was exciting! Not just for fans, but for teams."
• Jerry Zgoda, Star Tribune Timberwolves beat writer for all of Rubio's tenure with the Wolves. He said of Rubio's arrival in Minnesota, "I remember hundreds of fans and media waiting in the airport's arrival area, peering through restricted glass doors waiting for Rubio to come down a set of escalators and onto Minnesota soil."
• Steve McPherson, Timberwolves blogger and fan, said of Rubio's aura, "Stripped of the emotional component of it, I suppose you'd call it flair, but whatever you want to call it, Minnesota had been lacking it for years."
• Rob Babcock, former Timberwolves executive when Rubio was drafted and several years beyond. He said of Rubio as a player, "Ricky knows every play and knows where everyone is supposed to be on every play. You just don't find players like that anymore."