Hey look, this kind of thing happens all the time. In sports as in life, we’re always looking for the next big thing. Usually, we’re anxious to find him before everyone else does, mostly so we can show everyone how smart we are. More often than not, the subject of such affection fails to live up to the hype. Once in a blue moon you get a LeBron James, the guy who actually exceeds even the wildest of expectations.

Still, for every LeBron you get 100 Harold Miner or Felipe Lopez types, guys who either failed to live up to the dreams of others or just plain weren’t good enough. Miner will always be remembered as “Baby Jordan” because he was never good enough to be remembered as anything else. For the rare players who actually lived up to the hype, they ceased being known as “the next _____” and simply became a measuring stick in their own right. I mean, nobody calls Kobe the next anything these days. He is simply Kobe, and the next generation of players will be compared to him for years to come.

Really, the best we can do is keep our heads on straight and do our best not to get all carried away and whatnot. I mean, you can look at Marshon Brooks’ stats through the first 15 games of his career and say to yourself “wow, those are better than Kobe’s were!”. Hardly means Brooks will be the better player, does it?

Which brings me to Ricky Rubio.

Yeah, we waited three years for him to arrive after being drafted by Minnesota and in all that time we heard all about his struggles in Euro league, his gifts with the basketball and his supposed disdain for the franchise that drafted him, among other things. Of course, the anticipation of his arrival just grew and grew until, at last, he arrived on american soil.

Since then, it seems like fans and writers alike have been in love with him from the very first no-look pass, falling all over themselves like teenage girls in line for the next Twilight movie. Everywhere we turn, he’s being called everything from “an artist with the basketball” to “the best passer in years”, until finally someone went too far with the superlatives. When did this happen, you ask?

When some dummy just had to go and compare him to Pistol Pete.

Remember being a kid and having someone bring up a player from back in the day, only to say something like “well, that might be before your time”. Yeah it was always annoying, but sometimes that old dude had a point. I mean, as much time as I spent reading books and stuff I couldn’t honestly say I’d seen much of someone like Earl Monroe or Oscar Robertson outside of the occasional short highlight.

Thing is, that kind of shit doesn’t hold water these days. Now, we’ve got youtube, ESPN Classic, and a million other resources at our disposal, and the only thing stopping you from learning about any player, whether it be someone as famous Wilt Chamberlain or obscure as  Wendell Ladner is laziness.

Still, I’ve been bombarded with these asinine comparisons, as if the fact that Rubio can make flashy passes somehow merits comparisons with the leading scorer in NCAA Basketball history. Nevermind that one is a pass first guard who is shooting 38% for the season while teams basically tune their backs on him and dare him to shoot, and the other was flat-out scoring machine who made wacky passes in his spare time.

Look, I can’t help but be annoyed by this kind of thoghtless hyperbole. Frankly, I wish I could ignore it. Still, the best I can do is offer up a reasonable solution to this stupidity, which in this case would simply mean findind a more accurate player to compare Rubio to. Truth be told, I figured it out 5 minutes into the first game I watched Rubio play, and I surprised it took me that long.

That player is Jason Williams, formerly known as “white chocolate”.

Seriously, this is a no-brainer. Between the flair for the dramatic, the slight build and the erratic jump shot (Williams was a career 39.8% shooter), the similarities abound. To someone who has been watching basketball for long enough, this whole Rubio phenomenon has a feeling of deja vu to it. I mean, watch this video and tell me this all doesn’t look awfully familiar.

If you were around in 1999 you’ll probably remember the way Williams took the league by storm in his rookie season (just the same way Rubio has now) as part of a Sacramento King team that came from nowhere to make the playoffs and took the veteran Utah Jazz to the limit. You’d also remember that Williams was the recipient of the same ludicrous comparisons to Pistol Pete despite being nothing more than a flashy guard with great court vision.

Of course, Williams’ spent three years dazzling crowds and hoisting wayward 25 footers before the Sacramento brain trust decided that as exciting as he was to watch, he wasn’t the kind of steady leader the Kings needed if they were going to seriously contend for an NBA title, so they shipped him to Memphis for Mike Bibby. Williams went on to play 12 years in the pros, most of them as a starter, but never became more than an average player. Oddly enough, he actually slowed down in his later years and became a steady, veteran point guard.

Look, I’m not saying that any of us can rightly say we know a players’ destiny after seeing them play a grand total of 21 games in the NBA. What I am saying is that this is the future I see for Rubio, and I’d be willing to bet on it. Sure, he can pass his ass off and seems to see things two seconds before they happen like alot of the great point guards did. Still, will he ever be able to shoot well enough earn the respect of defenses, and will he ever be anything other than a severe liability on defense? With all those attributes he can be great. Without them, he’s another White Chocolate. Or Chocolat, I guess.

Oh, and trust me when I tell you that this is hardly an insult. I mean, Williams had a nice career. When all is said and done, I’m thinking Rubio will have had one just like it.

-John Hathwell



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