SALT LAKE CITY — Every time Ricky Rubio hits the court for the Utah Jazz, he pays homage to his late mother, Tona Vives, with a special routine.
The Spanish floor general is private about the ritual, but continued to honor his mom using his national platform live on ESPN Wednesday.
When Rubio stepped on the hardwood in Vivint Arena to face the Boston Celtics, he broke out a fresh pair of Adidas Crazy Explosive 2017 Primeknit lows designed by Salvador “Kickstradomis” Amezcua.
“It was an amazing experience to do my bro Ricky's shoes for a special night,” Kickstradomis told the Deseret News. “To be chosen to do something so special and important shows my progression in my career, and I've been able to build great friendships throughout the league.”
The navy blue/white commemorative sneakers were specifically created for the Jazz’s 5 for the Fight Night to raise funds for cancer research.
In his first season in Utah, Rubio has become an ambassador for the campaign and agreed to auction the sneakers, his game-worn uniform, and an autographed basketball to raise money as well as participate in a postgame meet and greet with fans who made donations to the cause.
“I talked with the Jazz and they were doing the 5 for the Fight Night and I wanted to do something to honor all my friends and family who passed away by cancer and that was the way to do it,” Rubio said.
Vives died from lung cancer on May 26, 2016, despite being a non-smoker and living a relatively healthy lifestyle. Rubio’s former Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders also died from cancer at the age of 60 in October 2015. Both of their names are listed on the sneakers.
“The (shoes show the) names of my family and friends who passed away by cancer and a couple roses in memory of my mom and a couple more things.”
Jazz fans were urged to shine their cellphone flashlights during the third quarter break, along with Jazz broadcaster Ron Boone, to symbolize how many folks the deadly disease has touched.
“In 2008 my wife passed away of cancer,” an emotional Boone said before a roaring crowd. “So I know all of you know someone special so the respect, the fight, and the patch is something special.”
A Qualtrics founder also offered a $500,000 match on all funds raised through the auction and other donations made on 5 for the Fight Night.
Rubio ended the game with 14 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and three steals in a 97-94 loss to the Celtics.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Legendary Jazz coach Jerry Sloan was celebrating his 76th birthday Wednesday. The Hall of Fame sideline leader led the Jazz to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998 against the Chicago Bulls. Sloan has the third-most coaching wins in NBA history with 1,223 from 1988-2011 and the Jazz commemorated that mark by hanging No. 1223 in the rafters.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: Prior to Wednesday’s tipoff, the Jazz offered a moment of silence to former G League player Zeke Upshaw, who died two days after collapsing on the court for the Grand Rapids Drive in a sudden cardiac death. Upshaw was 26 years old when he died on March 26. The basketball world continues to mourn his death.
“The NBA G League family is devastated by the tragic passing of Zeke Upshaw,” NBA G League President Malcolm Turner said in a statement. “Zeke was an outstanding young man whose powerful belief in himself and uncommon perseverance led to a successful professional basketball career. A beloved member of the Grand Rapids Drive, Zeke’s continuous improvement and tireless work ethic were hallmarks of his career. We extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends and the Drive organization.”