“Ugh are you kidding me, what is this garbage all about? Come on not again, not just after the annoying trade deadline just ended. ” That was me, on Tuesday morning when I first read Steve Bulpett’s report that Rajon Rondo opted to skip his flight with the team to Sacramento to stay in LA and celebrate a birthday with family and friends. I’m a huge Rondo fan, always have been. The image of him smiling like a little kid while holding the 2008 Larry O’Brien trophy is my Twitter avatar. Let’s get that out of the way. But there are still things that he has done to piss me off and frustrate me.
While on the surface it’s not a big deal but because both Stevens and Ainge didn’t bury it, there was obviously something there. And yes, it was his scheduled day off, but it still looks really bad that as newly minted captain AND when you’re already under an electron microscope for every little action you do, it would have looked better to still travel with the team and be with them. You know when your birthday is. Your family knows when your birthday is. You know when games are on the schedule. Your family knows when games are on the schedule. You know when said schedule contains a back-to-back, of which you know you are not going to play. Your family knows when said schedule contains a back-to-back, of which they know you are not going to play. All of this could have been planned, cleared and avoided well ahead of time. It’s on par with last season when the Celtics lost Pierce and KG’s final game in green during Game 6 at the Garden, and Rondo was off in Vegas rehabbing his knee and watching a Floyd Mayweather fight the next day. Like then, that could have waited and wasn’t necessary at all. Being with your team is.
For me, games are paramount and I’m just a fan. I make watching as many games in real-time as I possibly can, a priority. I realize this is an irrational sickness but after all, that is what a “fanatic” is, correct? For a player, coach, etc the games should be even more so, especially for him. But after letting it process for a few days I’m over it and ready to move on, although I still want to hear what Ainge has to say. I wasn’t thrilled with Rondo’s response only because it adds more fuel to the fire against him. But I have a theory about that, as well as his responses to the media in general. I’m not a qualified psychologist by any means. I’m not Sean Maguire to Rondo’s Will Hunting, so take this for what you will (no pun intended, I’m not that smahhhht).
Everything is a competition to Rondo. My guess is he treats the media like everything else: a competition. When they go at him with questions like that (which are totally justified), he views it as a challenge and rather giving them the answers they (and the fans) want and letting them “win,” he gives them a “jerk” answer back (because he views the questions as a jerk questions). Take into consideration when he’s asked random or innocuous questions, he doesn’t view it as a competition, rather just playful discussion, so he’s disarmed, and will answer with a smile, laughter or funny response. He even did this in the same post-game interview, joking about how his reputation with the refs.
Dry and canned, or elaborate and lengthy answers typically satisfy the media for their deadlines or the fans for their own approval. The media and most fans loved Ray Allen because he provided this. Ray was engaging and always willing and available for a good quote. I’ve also heard several stories of him being the biggest jerk to fans who simply asked for an autograph after one of his pregame workouts. No no, Ray simply couldn’t have his ritual interrupted to wave at a fan.
They loved KG because he provided this, even though he also made reporters wait long after games as well. Other than the 2009 first round matchup against the Bulls, KG never sat on the bench in street clothes and was called out on it by Ray but that never seemed to gain traction. KG and Ray could make us all forget or not care because they either feigned the appearance of being cordial and professional, or gave funny quotes. They knew how to play the game in the public eye, in the media and for the fans. They played the game their way.
But Rondo doesn’t look at it this way. He wants to defeat them, even if he knows he’s wrong (which it sure seems like he knows he’s wrong). He’s playing Connect Four with the questions, the interviews. Again, I’m no psychologist, but he’s been pretty consistent this way with the media. I mean sure, they’re going to ask, but the fact that they respond by writing seemingly negative reactionary pieces makes Rondo probably think: “I got you… again.”
The media has a job to do and they have to ask those questions. The questions that Rondo views as competition. He’s not doing himself any favors by continually coming off as being a jerk with short answers. Both fans and media will play favorites and make excuses and justifications for their favorite players, or the players that give them lots of time and lots of long-winded and thoughtful answers. It happens, we all do it at some point. Rondo is not the first Celtic to have his transgressions on or off the court and that includes plenty of equally bad or worse incidents from Celtic legends that are worshipped and blinded by the power of Father Time.
Dave Cowens, in his 7th season, after having won his second NBA championship, simply went AWOL and decided to stop playing. In the middle of the season, he just didn’t feel like showing up. What did he do? He first did an internship at a race track and when he decided that it wasn’t for him, he hooked up with a few buddies in Florida and took a 60-day road trip. During a season in which his team is defending their title. And for all of you out there that claim Red Auerbach would have never put up with Rondo’s “bullshit,” what did Red to Cowens? Did he bench him when he returned? Suspend him? Fine him? Trade him? Well, not exactly:
I wasn’t the most talented guy around, so I had to give it that big effort just to play against an average guy. So, I said, “Red [Auerbach, then the general manager of the Celtics], I need a break from the game. My attitude isn’t what is should be, and I don’t feel right about taking a paycheck when my heart isn’t in the game.” He was really good about it and told me to take as much time as I needed to get right.
So I can only imagine the wrath and fury Red would have got at Rondo with. Or not. Ok fine you say, that’s one incident for Cowens, but Rondo has done plenty of dumb things. Well, Cowens wasn’t done.
I think that was in ’77. We were in the playoffs. A buddy of mine from Kentucky was in town, and I said, “Hey, let’s go get a cab.” At that time, for like $35, you could get a cab to drive. You had to pay for your own gas, but whatever you made you could keep for yourself.
We were driving around, trying to pick people up. But no one wanted to get in the cab because there were two of us in the front seat.
So I let my buddy out and then business picked up. And then a crazy thing happened. I was stopped at an intersection, at Boylston and Tremont. A guy gets in and asks me to take him to Newton. As we’re driving down to the Mass Pike, he tells me he’s a reporter. He had been covering a Bruins game that night when he heard that Cowens was driving a cab. So he left the hockey game and started walking the streets of Boston, looking for my cab, and he found it at that intersection. Now you tell me, what are the odds of that happening?
He wrote a story about it, and eventually–because not too long before that I had taken my leave of absence–people started thinking that I had quit basketball to drive a cab. I drove the cab for one night, just as a lark, just for something to do.
I can only imagine if this happened during today’s 24/7 Twitter filled world we live in today. Cowens would be roasted. But now, just like Cowens and Jeff Van Gundy well all look at it today and laugh it off. I laugh at it as well, but I guarantee you it would not be funny if Rondo or Paul Pierce did this. Or even the legend himself who wasn’t exactly a model citizen off the court.
Getting into a bar fight during the Eastern Conference Finals and messing up your hand (while allegedly assaulting a male AND a female) is kind of a huge deal to me. But to this day, Bird is held upon the highest of pedestals in Celtics lore, with people just shrugging or looking the other way when this gets brought up. If you asked Bird today what his thoughts are on the subject he’d probably give you an answer similar to what Rondo did the other night. Granted, he reportedly did admit to it later on during the year after a settlement was reached, but answers are needed right now, always. At the time, Bird was 28. Were people questioning his ability to be a captain? Were they questioning his ability to be a captain after his team got blasted in Game 3 of the 1984 finals and he called them sissies to the media? Not sure how it was treated then, but nowadays the media and fans will say “BIRD IS DAMN RIGHT THAT HIS TEAM WAS PLAYING LIKE A BUNCH OF SISSIES!!!” (my dad tells me that was the general feeling by everyone… and I agree with everyone). Were people killing Dave Cowens, an MVP, a two-time champion, for quitting on his team simply because he didn’t feel like playing anymore? Or for driving a taxi during the playoffs?
When I was at the KG and Pierce homecoming game a few weeks ago and getting emotional watching the amazing video tribute, I wasn’t thinking of him committing a bonehead foul on Jamaal Tinsley during the 2005 playoffs. I wasn’t thinking about the absurd head wrap bandage he wore during the post-game press conference, claiming he had a fractured jaw. I didn’t see the video clips of him showing up Doc Rivers for benching him at the Garden and bitching at Doc in front of C’s fans and on camera. I didn’t see highlights of him flashing supposed gang signs to Al Horford when a young, brash Hawks team nearly embarrassed the powerhouse C’s in the first round in 2008.
I definitely must have blinked at the part of the video that showed his 2002 Team USA highlights, or the news clippings that told the stories of how “petulant” and “childish” he was, thus becoming black-balled by USA basketball. I do remember several tear-jerking moments from both finals appearances against the hated Lakers, except for the footage of him walking off the court just before halftime because he didn’t get to take the final shot of the half, basically acting “petulant.” And that was in 2010. I also saw a few clips from the battles against the Miami Heat, but absent was his “petulant” and “childish” headbutt to James Jones during Game 1 of the 2011 Eastern Conference semi-finals. Or the ensuing hard screen set on Dwyane Wade to get him ejected from the same game. In 2011. He was 33, would he ever learn to be a TRUE captain? A TRUE Celtics leader? Maybe next year. Well, except in 2012 with time still remaining in a gut-punching Game 2 vs Miami in the improbable run to the ECF, when there was a glimmer of hope to steal the win, True Captain Paul was seen walking off the court and nearly in the locker room with time still left on the clock. He was 34. Or perhaps, when he brought his leadership to Brooklyn the walk-offs would cease. Well, not so much.
Look, none of this is meant to trash Larry Bird, Dave Cowens, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen or Rajon Rondo. I love all of those players (ok maybe not Ray) even though the words above may not seem that way. The point of it all is to show that all of these guys that are worshipped and held on a pedestal by so many, all have their warts… so many ugly warts. While we live it in real time, we tend to bash most of them, some harder than others. But how many of you ever think of Cowens quitting on his team for a good chunk of the season just because, well just because? We don’t. We think of him diving for that ball and sliding halfway across the parquet.
Who thinks of Bird getting into a barfight, messing up his hand and quite possibly contributing to losing the 1985 Finals to the hated Lakers (at home, for the first time in their history no less). Who thinks of ANY of those things I mentioned when you see Pierce in your green tinted memories? Nobody does, and he played during the most recent multi-media times. Right now, we think of all the terrible things Rondo has done. Although I don’t recall him being involved in any type of legal trouble (like Bird). He recently earned an NBA Community Assist Award, something of which Bird never won and never wanted to bother with. Go ahead and read Jack McCallum’s fantastic book, “Unfinished Business” and let me know how you feel about Bird’s lack of involvement in the community. Meanwhile, Rondo has done countless things in the community, like taking kids shopping for the holidays, randomly showing up to teach math to kids in school or carrying on Reggie Lewis’ tradition of handing out turkeys to families in need during Thanksgiving. But it generates more ratings, page views and clicks to trash him.
Like it or not, all of your green heroes have warts. Even the ones on the Celtic Mt. Rushmore, yes it’s true. I was pissed at RondoBirthdayGate. At the end of the day, it’s not a life altering deal, but it just looks bad. At the same time I’m patient with him as well as I was with Pierce. I grew up with Pierce and in 2005 I admit, I wanted him gone. I thought “come on, no REAL captain of the beloved Celtics ever acted like that.” Except, well, yeah not really. Right now, Rondo is that guy for your Celtics. I’m eager to see how this season and the ensuing major offseason goes (including the lottery, draft, potential trades and free agents, etc.). We all are aren’t we? Until then follow Coach Steven’s advice and embrace the process. Going through a rebuild is difficult. And right now they need Rondo. If that is as the next guy as one of the main pieces on a contender (which by the way, I’m sorry to all of those out there that question this but he was clearly their best player in the 2010 run and would have been named MVP of the finals had they held on so that answers that question) or if he’s the main piece to bring back other pieces.
Either way he’s the next and current C’s captain with warts. I remember John posted this at some point and it’s an accurate representation if you ask me. But maybe someday he has his Good Will Hunting “It’s not your fault” moment with Ainge. Maybe he has his “Park Scene” moment with Brad Stevens. Maybe he doesn’t need to. Maybe he magically gets two great players this summer like Pierce did in 2007, wins another title and we all forget and laugh at all of this, like we did (and still do) with Pierce. Until then, hang on and enjoy watching him solve impossible equations on the court. But there will be warts, and as a fan you have every right to feel the way you do in any scenario. In the meantime go read Bulpett’s piece on Rondo or Chris Forsberg’s post in which they wrote far better pieces than I ever could, in a much shorter fashion.