Of all the European players who have come down the NBA Draft pike, none – no, not even Darko – has been as polarizing as one Ricard “Ricky” Rubio Vives. And why such derision on both sides of the Ricky Rubio question? Since when has anyone outside the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area cared so damn much about the fate of a single prospective Timberwolf?

In November, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” piece on Rubio commented that the 20-year-old exists outside of Europe as a YouTube legend – a prescient description of the guy BallinEurope likes to refer to as “The Human YouTube Highlight Clip” – and thus laments that the faults in Ricky’s play remain unseen by the great majority of enthusiasts.

It’s as though Rubio becomes an object of faith, a representation of European basketball itself as the single most exciting product to come out of The Continent since at least Dirk Nowitzki. Can this wunderkind baffle with his ball-handling in America? To say “yes” is to meet with derision and charges that the viewpoint’s holder underestimates one-on-one defense in the NBA; to say “no” is seemingly to continue denying that top European players are among the tops on the planet.

Because Ricky Rubio fandom is all a matter of belief.

And it would seem to be a shaky faith overseas, as the mutterings and careful optimism on some Minnesota Timberwolves fans’ parts that continued unabated through 2009-10 evaporated sometime between the FC Barcelona-Los Angeles Lakers game and the “Outside the Lines” piece screening in November.

With poor play against the NBA’s defending champions, any further cachet Rubio had earned with decent, if not brilliant, performances in the 2010 FIBA World Championship. The miracles witnessed in three-minute slices online were rarely in evidence, despite the fact that the no. 6 overall draft pick was directing a successful Team Spain offense and was as quick as ever on the defensive side. (In five games out of nine in the tournament, Rubio managed two or more steals.) But hey, making the sun rise every day isn’t considered a miracle; only overt Jordanesque-level water-into-wine displays will do.

Here at BiE, what started as a simple post about rising ACB star Nikola Mirotic rapidly became a barrage of accusations of trollhood as the Is-Ricky-good-enough-for-the-NBA debate swamped the comments section. Gabe, who has been audacious enough to suggest that recent awards Rubio has received in Europe put him among the elite in Europe; Zoran holds that “Rubio is a joke player. He’s easily the worst player on his team and he is a huge liability whenever he is in the game” and wonders publicly if Gabe is actually a troller.

Well, personally and editorially, as a priest in the Church of Rubio (albeit one with a bit of faltering faith at the moment), BiE is obliged to accept all his comments on Ricky as well as all negative comments on the lad. After all, those who believe will believe and criticism can only serve to make that faith stronger. Those who do not are fated to remain dissatisfied until Rubio first breaks into the NBA and subsequently fails. BiE hopes for success over schadenfreude in this case.

And now, brief run of “Fact or Fiction,” if you will. (This is an ESPN site, after all…)

Fact: Rubio is 20 years old. Fact: He’s the starting point guard on what is most likely the best team in Europe and the defending Euroleague champs. Fact: He’s down in nearly all statistical categories in Euroleague and ACB play and his three-point shooting from the new arc has been disturbingly bad (14.6% in EL games? ¡Come on!).

Fiction: Rubio is the best point guard in Europe. He’s not even the best point guard in Spain in 2010-11.

Opinion: Rubio appeared to actually be improving on defense – and this chasing a season in which he contended for European Defensive Player of the Year. Fact: Dimitris Diamanditis has made Ricky look lost in two consecutive Euroleague playoff games.

Fact: Gabe and Zoran are not trolling, they just have diametrically opposed viewpoints.

Opinion: Rubio may be slightly overrated (representing a change from the traditional BiE stand, which was heavily involved in helping overrate him – though he did have a great season in 2009-10, gotta admit). On the other hand, perhaps he’s having an off year.

BallinEurope will choose to believe the latter for now. And before the vitriol rises and the mad keyboard punching begins, BiE will paraphrase Soren Kierkegaard with the closer, “The existence of Rubio’s superhuman talent is founded in our minds not on the basis of logic or reason, but purely on faith.”

Rubio and FC Barcelona play the third game of their Euroleague Playoff series at Panathinaikos Athens tonight at 8.45pm CET (3.45pm EST).

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