With Ricky Rubio announcing his retirement from the NBA, Emmet Ryan writes about his own mental health, basketball, and coping with yourself
Thursday was a moment for reflection. It’s not the first of its type and it won’t be the last but that doesn’t make it any less important. Ricky Rubio has played his last game in the NBA. He’s only 32 but he’s been in the public consciousness for close to two decades now. That’s a lot but his story is only beginning.
He has really been around a long time
Picking the moment that the basketball nerds, at least those outside of Spain, first noticed Ricky Rubio is a little challenging to judge. There’s the August 2006 FIBA Europe U16 final, where he went off for 51 points and did this. Triple coverage, mid court, no time on the clock and it didn’t matter. There’s an excellent write-up just on this moment by Igor Curkovic that you should check out.
Thing is, he’d already had a moment or two before that. Rubio debuted before he’d turned 15 in 2005, the youngest ever in Spain’s ACB, with Joventut Badalona. That same year, before his miracle performance with the national U16s, he won the FIBA Eurochallenge with Joventut. He led the ACB in steals in his age 16 season, and Eurocup (again with Badalona) in his age 17 season.
Then came the moment the world noticed him. In the gold medal game of the Summer Olympics in 2008, Rubio scared the life out of the USA’s redeem team as Spain took silver. He was named Mr Europa that year, a star had truly been born.
This isn’t a career retrospective
It may have started like one but the real purpose of the above is to stress how much basketball Ricky Rubio had essentially done, against grown men, before he was even drafted. The list of accolades on his Wikipedia is such that his underage awards struggle to fit in. All this yet only three trips ever to the playoffs in the NBA and just one league wide honour, an all-rookie team slot, in his long career in the association.
For a guy that has just gone 32, certainly a veteran’s age, his career length and endurance (especially when you consider national team duties) despite his injuries is closer to that of a 38 or 39 year old. That’s a lot of basketball and life has to fit around that. It’s a job and a well-paying one at that, obviously, but few careers demand so much on the body and spirit as one that has you on the road so much with your performance review taking place nightly in the eyes of the public.
All of that has to be considered when we look at where Ricky Rubio is now in life.
BallinEurope is ramping up its YouTube game this season. Subscribe to our channel now for player exclusives, analysis videos, and much more.
You’ve probably read the statement by now but here’s the link just in case. Rubio had stepped back from basketball in August and formally announced he was finished in the NBA on 4 January 24. He was 31 years old when he played his last game in the association.
That’s young. Really young. I’m 42 and it’s weird for me to talk about someone who has been working for a living almost as long as I have been as a youngster. I don’t know what exactly went through Ricky Rubio’s head that night in July of last year but I am glad he chose to focus on himself. Mental health is no joke, I’m going to get to that, and Rubio has been his share of blows.
A few years ago in Dublin, at a tech conference, I was speaking with Ryan Smith. He’s the founder of Qualtrics which is based in Utah and was the jersey sponsor for the Jazz while Rubio was there. He mentioned how he’d bonded with Rubio over their shared desire to do more for cancer research. It stood out to me. Smith didn’t try to be jocular or talk about favourite basketball teams etc with the journalist he would have been told in advance was a big hoop head. He went for the man behind the baller.
I am not an athletically gifted wizard. I never put in those long hours. I never had speed, despite being quick for an unfit fat guy. But I still felt that letter Rubio posted quite relatable.
Most of you who have met will know that I’m pretty outgoing. I love meeting people, talking to them, getting to know them, and going down all kinds of rabbit holes of conversations with them. One PR company in Dublin’s brief on me has the word “gregarious” towards the top.
I also have anxiety based depression.
Put me in front of a crowd or a mic, stick me on the radio, ask me to pretty much do anything that involves engaging with people and you probably wouldn’t think it. I certainly didn’t. In 2011, I never got that being confident didn’t mean I couldn’t be anxious.
Anxiety isn’t the entirety of my mental health issue but it’s the easiest one to frame the issues I have around. My partner Shubhangi knows that going for a train, bus, or plane is an experience. I absolutely must be early and that I get anxious about the possibility of getting anxious.
There are days where the anxiety completely overpowers me. I’m afraid to even look at my phone when I wake up. Hours will go by before I can get out of bed. It stinks.
Here’s the thing
It’s not just those moments, it’s what comes after. In May, after a long time struggling with his health, I lost my father at the age of 88. My mother then had a health scare that summer. Things were not easy. My day job frankly became an absolute pain and it’s no accident that there was hardly anything on this site between my father passing and the FIBA World Cup or since the FIBA World Cup until this week.
Eventually, as part of restructuring, I was made redundant by my day job. The joys kept piling up. Lots of good things were happening along the way through all of this, including going strong as a commentator for the Basketball Champions League.
So there’s this whole wild mix, an emotional rollercoaster and it is exhausting. The body takes it badly (I’ve gained a lot of weight in the last six months). It’s not just when the bad thing happens, it’s trying to live normally when life is most definitely not normal for you. The loss of control, real or imagined, and the sinking inevitability just beats the living snot out of you. That is simply unsustainable.
This is why it’s relatable
In August, Ricky Rubio chose to stop letting the cycle keep deciding what would happen with his life. The idea of stepping away from a career, from what so often defines us as people, is a recipe for anxiety
When I read Ricky Rubio’s letter on Thursday I thought about the process I had gone through from late November into mid-December when I was formally made redundant. It was exhausting, both from a mental health and physical perspective. The energy spent just keeping calm was immense. Then I realised that once it was done, I did something that I really hadn’t done in a long time.
I stopped. It wasn’t some grand focus on my mental health. I just stopped.
Often, the only way to go forward is to stop trying to. Those couple of weeks over the holidays involved meeting friends and family sure but there was also downtime, real downtime, for the first time in forever. I played video games, I watched TV or YouTube. I just plain chilled. By doing nothing, or rather not trying to do everything, my life has already improved. Reading Ricky Rubio’s letter, my honest reaction is that the same thing is happening for him.
So what’s next?
This is really two questions or arguably two in one. One is basketball, one is life, yet it’s also a combination of both. Being the emotionless journalist that I must be at times for a moment, I figure he’ll play in Spain close to family and try to go to the Olympics.
In life, I think he’s already doing the most important thing. He’s focused on helping himself and he seems to have some great people around him. That’s important. Shubhangi, Ma, and so many of the buds have been enormous for me through my tough times. I’m lucky, I like a lot of people and that tends to help.
Ricky Rubio seems to like a lot of people too. There was this moment, that Tom Ziller shared in his newsletter, from a game early in his NBA career that jumped out to me.
He’s a dude. He’s a man. He’s got most of his life ahead of him, he’s the right person to make decisions for his mental health. Basketball has been part of life up to now, a big part, but it has never been the entirety of it. Basketball may continue to be part of it to some degree going forward. He’s a lock for both the Naismith and FIBA halls of fame, his international body of work means he walks into them. Throw on his NBA counting stats and it’s even more impressive. Now however, basketball in his life will be on his terms. That’s a good thing.
Thank you Ricky Rubio for all you’ve done and all the best with whatever is next.
Given the international nature of our readership, linking to one mental health contact site seems inappropriate. That said, if you have been affected by this article and want to talk, please use a search engine to quickly find the right support near you.