MINNEAPOLIS Last Sunday's game between the Timberwolves and the Lakers featured two of the most exciting point guards in basketball, the elder already proven as the best in the game and the other heralded as one of the first greats in the NBA's newest generation.
One, Kobe Bryant, has set an almost unattainable standard at the position. He's stoic and tough, intimidating even in his friendliest moments. The other, Ricky Rubio, represents the future. A talented rookie, he'll be flipping behind-the-back passes long after Bryant retires, but off the court, Rubio is as unassuming as Bryant is unapproachable.
But Rubio and Bryant do share one trait: an overwhelming confidence that's become more overt in Bryant over the years but remains obscured in Rubio by his youth and thick accent. After Sunday's 106-101 Timberwolves' loss, though, Rubio's easy self-assurance was on full display.
A video that Complex Magazine posted to its website captures a postgame exchange between the two point guards, in which Rubio has the audacity -- or perhaps naivete -- to talk a bit of trash with Bryant about the upcoming Olympics in London. Here's what they (and Bryant's teammate Pau Gasol) had to say:
Bryant, to Rubio and Pau Gasol: "You talking about London?"
Gasol: "Oh yeah."
Rubio: "You're gonna be there?"
Rubio: "You know you're getting the silver medal. You know that."
Bryant: "****! I'm taking bets. If I win, I get the keys of Barcelona."
Rubio: "I bet what you want."
Bryant: "I'll take it!"
With the U.S. team not yet decided but already limited to a 20-man roster that will be difficult to narrow to 12, Rubio's challenge is a big one. But for the rookie point guard, the exchange was just a light-hearted joke.
"It's just we talk about if he's going to go to the Olympic games," Rubio said. "You know, I always try to be the winner. It's normal that we talk like that, but we're just having fun, you know."
Rubio played against Bryant in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics, where the Spanish team lost to the United States in the championship game and came away with silver medals. He's also built a relationship with Bryant through his close friend Gasol, and the two point guards have been in contact through their work with Nike. To Rubio, Bryant isn't a stranger or a celebrity; he's just a talented older player, as approachable as any other opponent.
Bryant is likely a lock for one of the U.S. team's 12 spots in 2012. Rubio's teammate Kevin Love also is among the final 20 names in consideration and has a good shot of traveling to London. Love said that he heard about the exchange after it happened and was hardly surprised by it.
"That's Ricky," Love said. "He's a confident kid. He likes to have fun with people on and off the court. He always keeps it light, so for him to talk trash to Kobe, that was pretty fun."
That's the thing -- talking trash is normal, a part of every game for some players. Even on the court, it's not mean-spirited, Rubio said, but just a way for players to express themselves and challenge each other. So of course Bryant did his best to get inside Rubio's head throughout Sunday night's game, and the rookie's post-game challenge was just an extension of that conversation.
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