First of all, although I am admittedly a mere speck on the Boston sports media landscape, some might see me as partially to blame for Rondo’s suspicious approach to the Boston scribes, or at least for getting things started off on the wrong foot. A little back history is on order here:
In the summer of 2006, after Rondo was selected by Phoenix on Boston’s behalf and immediately traded to the Celtics, I was assigned (by the now defunct magazine Boston Sports Review) to do a story on the generally unheralded incoming rookie. The angle of the story was that I would speak to every available beat writer who covered the Kentucky Wildcats during Rondo’s two years at the school and get their thoughts on Rondo’s prospects as an NBA player. As it turned out, those Kentucky writers gave me a dead-on breakdown.
Collectively, they assessed him to be a player who periodically suffered from inconsistency and needed to be handled carefully by his coach but who also possessed a terrific level of talent and a basketball IQ off the charts. The issue of Rondo’s shooting was also echoed frequently and across the board. However, one of the writers (Jerry Brewer, cousin of Corey Brewer and now a columnist for the Seattle Times) also pointed out the important distinction between Rondo’s maligned jumper and his ability to score. “Oh, he definitely can’t shoot!” Brewer said with wicked laughter when I asked him if the rumors of Rondo’s ugly J were true. “But he can score. He can score in bunches by beating everyone to the hole. He can be the most dangerous player on the floor.”
When I attended the Celtics’ Media Day a couple months later, I had mucho Rondo on the brain and very much looked forward to speaking with Rajon directly, more so than any other player present. Mostly, I wanted Rondo’s take on his own game in order to gain a better understanding of what I’d already been told by the Kentucky beat guys. Thus, when Rondo finally meandered onto the court, I was the first to pounce upon him. And in my haste, immense curiosity and general ineptness as a reporter, I immediately blew it. Here’s how it went down:
Me: “Have you got a moment for a few quick questions?”
Me: “So how’s the jumper?”
Thud. At that moment, I could actually see the proverbial door slam shut behind Rondo’s eyes. He formally responded to the question with a terse: “It’s fine.”
When I pressed him further by asking him if he’d been working on the jumper over the summer, he offered an expansive: “Yup.” When I followed up with an inquiry about how things were progressing with said jumper, he said, “Great,” and gave me a blank, unblinking stare. After that, a gaggle of non-basketball media eager beavers with TV cameras clamored over when they realized I was talking to an actual member of the Celtics. And thus, my portion of Rondo’s first Boston interview was over.
In retrospect, I understand that my approach was entirely wrong-headed. Here I was posing the first question to Rondo from a Boston reporter, and straight out of the box, it came across as an accusing inquiry about the biggest knock on Rondo’s game, basically the primary reason why twenty other players were chosen ahead of him in the draft. A more skilled reporter, of course, would have opened things up by asking about how Rondo’s blazing speed would serve him in the NBA game, or maybe how a more open offense under Doc Rivers might allow Rondo to flourish rather than be constrained like he was under Tubby Smith at Kentucky. Alas.
As a quick aside, take a look at some of the names of players chosen ahead of Rondo in that 2006 draft. It’s staggering how many of them have turned out to be clearly inferior as players compared to Boston’s floor general:
Andrea Bargani (1st overall), Adam Morrison (3rd), Patrick O’Bryant (9th), Mouhamed Sene (10th,, now out of the league), Cedric Simmons (15th, now out of the league) and Quincy Douby (19th now a member of of Darüşşafaka Cooper Tires in the Turkish Basketball League). Of all the players taken ahead of Rondo, only Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge have flourished or shown as much potential based on their place in the draft. No wonder Rondo seems to carry around a sizeable chip on his shoulder.
Speaking of which, I base that comment only on uninformed observation, mostly from afar. A couple months after our Media Day bonding experience, I interviewed Rondo in the locker room as part of a silly sidebar story on headbands I was doing on behalf of BSR. To this day, I’m not sure if Rondo recognized me as the knob who had all the questions about the jumper. He gave me the same flat stare before, during and after this frivolous round of Q&A (I still have it saved on my recorder because it cracks me up):
Me: “These are kind of silly questions, but I’m doing a story on headbands.”
Rondo: “Uh huh.”
Me: “How come you wear them?”
Rondo: “I don’t know. Sometimes I wear them, sometimes I don’t. It all depends.”
Me: “Is it a good luck charm?”
Rondo: “No. Just another part of the uniform.”
Me: “Do you wear a different one every game?”
“No. Whatever the team gives us actually.”
Me: “Um….(desperately trying to think of any other questions that might salvage the effort, but none come to mind)…Thanks for your time.”
For the record, when I asked those questions to Delonte West, he gave me comedic gold, basically making up a poem (but not a haiku) on the fly about how headbands rescue players from sweat in the eyes in between stoppages in play. But that’s Delonte West. Rondo, on the other hand, was then and remains now very reserved in how he portrays himself in the public eye, even under intended scrutiny.
If you read that recent piece by Charles P. Pierce in the Boston Globe Magazine (titled “The Stubborn, Impatient, Self-Centered, and Absolutely Essential Rajon Rondo”), if you’re like me, you found exactly zero new insights about Rondo within that article. Although the effort by Pierce is clearly there to deliver something of value, to me it’s all just a clever rehash of information and topics that have been well covered already. Typically I’d blame the writer for failing to dig deep enough to provide us with something new. Not in this case. Even at his young age, Rondo has already mastered the technique of saying little and sticking with the same answer of what he’s offered already. As a writer, there’s not much to be done about that.
Understand, this is not intended as a criticism. I like the fact that Rondo keeps us guessing and makes us focus almost entirely on his play rather than his words. It’s all about what happens on the court. It stands on its own. And that’s the way that it should be.
In a way, rather than willingly weave himself into the Celtics’ mystique, which so many lesser mortals have aspired to do over the years, Rondo has chosen a boldly different path. In doing so, in remaining so steadfastly independent and apart from the status quo within such a legendary organization, Rondo has perhaps begun to create a mystique of his own. Stay tuned. I sure will.