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Cavaliers' Mitchell 'happy' for friend Rubio following his NBA retirement

Ricky Rubio Donovan Mitchell Cleveland Cavaliers Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell - The Canadian Press

Ricky Rubio's retirement from the NBA may have seemed abrupt, even puzzling, to some. Donovan Mitchell sensed it coming.

And now that it's happened, Mitchell feels relieved for a teammate who became a cherished friend.

On Thursday, Rubio, who left the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer to focus on his mental health after he described his mind going to “a dark place,” announced that his playing career — at least in the NBA — is over and that he's made personal progress.

Mitchell, the Cavs' All-Star guard, spent two seasons with Rubio in Utah, and part of one in Cleveland. He's comforted to know his former backcourt mate has some closure.

“I feel like he could breathe,” said Mitchell, who learned of Rubio's decision on social media. “I’m not speaking for him. But I feel like it’s just one of those things where it’s kind of like that indecision of what you want to do can be a lot.

"I’m just happy that he finally has time to feel like he can breathe and go pick up his son from school and be with his family in Spain.”

The 33-year-old Rubio had a major impact everywhere he played, and particularly with Cleveland. He joined one of the league's youngest team's in 2021 and served as a mentor to several of the team's young players, including point guard Darius Garland.

He was also a major help to coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who said Rubio's assistance was immeasurable.

“I owe Ricky a debt of gratitude that there’s only a couple of guys who I could say at this point have had the impact on me that way,” Bickerstaff said. “He helped us, in a brief period of time, turn this organization into what you see in front of you.

“His presence allowed me to coach the team in a certain way where no one was too big to sacrifice. He was a starting point guard his entire career. He was a starting-level point guard when he was with us. But he sacrificed to come off the bench to be a part of this team, and that allowed me to coach the team in a way where nobody was above what was the most important thing — and that was only the team."

That was no surprise to Mitchell, who reunited with Rubio in Cleveland and could see his fingerprints on everything.

“He's just as genuine a human as I’ve ever met,” Mitchell said. “That’s Ricky. Never too high, never too low. I’m genuinely grateful for him. I’ve told him that a thousand times. He’s done so much for myself, for this organization, for the Jazz organization, for everywhere he’s been.”

Rubio also played in Minnesota and Phoenix. He won two Olympic medals with Spain’s national team.

Bickerstaff will miss so much about Rubio beyond basketball.

“Whenever he was here, he was committed to the community that he was a part of and didn’t do it for the fanfare, was never looking for the attention,” Bickerstaff said. "He just wanted to help people be better and smile and you would watch him interact with kids on these hospital visits and how he was able to just uplift them.

“He is a unique human being and again, we were very fortunate to have the time with him.”