Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rubio, Rondo: The Matchup We All Know Must, Maybe, Happen

There are some things that are destined to happen—cosmically, almost. And while I might be referring to just about anything right now, I’m specifically thinking of two basketball players: Ricky Rubio and Rajon Rondo, and how they are pretty much destined to meet each other at some point during the upcoming World Championships (in a competitive game, mind you: the friendly at Madrid does not count.)

Rubio and Rondo are spiritual twins but stylistically apart. It wasn’t until writing this until I realized, rather cornily, that their named have the same initials—which, again, if you’re in the oracular mode, you might view as inspired. The point is that both are long-limbed point guards with an excess of flair and moxie and a minimum of jump shots. Case in point: in a game a couple of days ago (granted, in one of those friendlies), with time winding down in the game, Rubio stole the ball from his opponent’s dribble, raced down court…and attempted a behind-the-back pass. It failed, but it was as ballsy a failure as I’ve seen in a while. Rubio, I feel quite certain, thought approximately two seconds about this before thinking how he could execute another eye-popping pass. And somewhere, Rondo sensed it, and nodded appreciatively. Both players, essentially, have mastered the art of outlandishness in critical moments, and that’s something you don’t often see everyday.

They’re similar in terms of intent when they play the game, and the general spirit with which they play it, but their means are entirely different. It’s interesting, given the difference in their games, that Rubio is the foreigner and Rondo the American player. Rubio approaches flair in a conventional game—his dexterity and manipulation of the ball recalls other players; that’s the reason he’s been compared (however unfairly) to Pete Maravich and Magic Johnson—his moves are unexpected at first but completely understandable and traditional when contemplated at leisure. Rondo, on the other hand, has that same will to thrill, but accomplishes it in a wholly unique fashion: not only does he see angles in a way players today don’t, he sees angles and makes passes in a way practically no one has done before. It’s the sort of singular approach you’d expect from an outsider unfamiliar with the conventions and culture of the game. Rubio’s game, on the other hand, is the type of game you’d expect from a basketball obsessive who spends all of the time not allotted to playing the game to watching Magic Johnson YouTube videos.

It’s an interesting little tale of how two players so similar—with similar ideologies, if that makes any sense—can end up so subtly yet starkly different.

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