Crossing the Rubiocon
Jelani the Elder is a young man living and writing in NYC. When he’s not writing, he’s busy plugging Epilogue Magazine. He's hoping FD will have him back soon, as he's already started on his magnum opus, "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Clippers: The Blake Griffin story."
In the notebooks of scouts abroad and at home, Ricky Rubio has been, all at once, the future and a throwback. He’s been Drazen Petrovic, Pete Maravich, Magic Johnson, and Steve Nash. But, as aesthetically pleasant as all these player comps might be, the National Basketball Association is a business; if the league’s sole purpose was to promote civic pride and goodwill, they probably wouldn’t have sales reps calling you every day for the last two months trying to get you courtside for a team built around Nate Robinson. Ricky’s venerable mound of hype surely commands hundreds of minds devising how to best monetize it. Such is capitalism.
Ricky represents the dream for those in the merchandise business who stand to make a tidy killing off of the Legend of Ricky. He’s played high-level competition in Europe since his early teens, hundreds upon hundreds of games a year, so either he’s A) totally bereft of personality due to the lack of a normal or stable adolescence developing amongst his peers or B) one of the weirdest, most eccentric dudes to lace ‘em up in a long time. If it’s A, that’s terrific, blank slate, the creation of an image from day one without any real transgressions. If it’s B) hell, maybe even better. But let’s say it’s A. Let’s run through the Rubio-branding options.
The Foreigner:The most obvious direction. He’d join Rudy Fernandez, Jose Calderon, and the Gasol brothers as the league’s resident Spaniards, which is just lovely because they’ll all could potentially play for different teams, where any head-to-head matchup would generate at least mild buzz, or, at the very least, an all-the-tapas-you-can-eat watch party. Ricky even stands to surpass them all (my guess is all five will make an All-Star team at some point) as he strides toward defensive competency. But I’d like to think Nike—it’ll be Nike—plays this up. Rubio’s EuroLeague career and its application to the NBA is still swathed in mystery, and certainly a quality that the brightest merchandising minds can utilize and build around.
New York Rubio: Some of the buzz lately suggests that Rubio-to-NYC is something that just has to happen. The Knicks don’t have a true point guard, they play D’Antoni run and gun and Rubio is the neo-Nash, not to mention that the league could easily stand to gain from putting a future star (product placement) in the Big Apple. In a city with legions of fans to seduce, relocated persons such as yours truly who have never had an NBA team to call their own, and NYC just happens the world’s finest hype auger. Also, the city’s fashion arm would certainly slide Ricky into $15,000 suits, paste him on SoHo billboards with his eyes obscured by Wayfarers, and stock an initial run of 50,000 Rubio Knicks jerseys at Midtown’s NBA Store. Oh, and a prediction—if the Knicks got Rubio, they would immediately introduce a new “alternative” jersey (Black? Green? Spanish flag color scheme? It doesn’t matter) just so they could make even more money. You know they would.
Recession Rubio: If the emptiness of Nike’s NYC retail outlets are any indicator of corporate prosperity, then maybe Nike ain’t doin’ so hot. Why spend the cash on an unproven Rubio when all it will take is a couple tweaks to the Rafael Nadal brand image? Rafa has a lot of desirable characteristics as a pitchman—he’s young, he’s good, he’s strikingly polite, and he’s European (Spanish…same as Rubio! Oh my!). Plus, Nadal’s possibly out for Wimbledon and the rest of the summer, so they could easily utilize his temporarily dormant campaign for the media swirl around July’s NBA draft. And if we’re running with the idea that Ricky Rey (patent pending) has no personality, you could do a lot worse than being sold as basketball’s Nadal. I don’t think that lugging your uncle around as coach would fly in the League, but I guess that just depends on how much money you’re generating.
Rascal Rubio:Bad boy angle. Gotta have it: The trickster, the devil—it’s timeless. Why mess with archetype? After last summer’s incredibly offensive Spanish Olympic Team picture mocked the host nation in a not-so-subtle way, this idea has wheels. Pair Ricky with Andrew Dice Clay, his Mars Blackmon, and you’re set for a divisive yet highly publicized career. Also, Rubio hails from the Catalan region of Spain, and making loads of deliberate anti-Basque statements in post-game press conferences could create tension internationally. It’s offensive and galvanic in dozens of time zones and languages, something that you can’t quite capture with your average Charles Barkley rant.
Relocation Rubio: If Ricky Rey ends up in Memphis or Sacramento, two embattled teams perpetually pondering relocation options, brand imagining would transcend Rubio and maybe create a market. For those mathematically inclined in the audience, surely “present value” calculation of future Ricky Rubio-related profit has to be a pretty substantial figure, a number that would surely affect a franchise’s current valuation. Kansas City, amongst others, could swipe a team due to its tenantless but new Sprint Center, and the return of the Kansas City Kings would certainly gel with my “Ricky Rey” campaign, “Rey” of course being the Spanish translation for “king.” Surely you see what I’m on to here. This is selfish for many reasons, but you know, you gotta look out for #1.
And if it’s option B, B again representing a maladjusted eccentric that has no feel for the American press or the subtleties of a new language, just let the product sell itself, Mr. Knight.