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Rondology: The Tao of Slack

Posted by paul on January 11, 2013 at 4:10 AM

Back in the nineties, I encountered a book about "slack", put out by the 'Church of the Subgenius', in a local bookstore.  I took it home, and was  fascinated by it.  

I had been brought up in a household that was typically bourgeouis,  in that it placed a high value on working hard, on striving, on achievement.  Thankfully, my upbringing was also somewhat conflicted about this.  It recognized that who you are is not defined by what you achieve.  Who you are is somehow much more than that.  This conflicting anti-bourgeois leaning probably came from the artistic side of my family background, combined with a kind of catholic mysticism.  The Church of Bob (Church of the Subgenius) appealed to my artistic and religious leanings in a subversive way, while conflicting with my leanings towards valuing hard work and achievement.

As far as I could tell, the Church of Bob (Church of the Subgenius) was a tongue in cheek pseudo-religion that was deeply serious.   It's teachings were hard to pin down, based on the book I acquired, but the basic aim seemed to be to foster awareness that notions like 'hard work' and 'achievement' are usually thought of as somehow inherently good, but possibly shouldn't be.   Is hard work good if what one is working at is not necessarily good?  

At the time I read about the Church of Bob, I was working at a local outlet of a giant national craft chain.   I prided myself in working hard at my job, and I loved the fact that I was selling people craft goods, and ideas, which could spark their  imaginations.   But I recognized that there was a flip side to all this.  I knew that the national chain store I worked at was competing with local and regional businesses, that they exploited their stateside employees, and that they seemed to monstrously exploit workers abroad in places like China.  Every item I sold enhanced someone's creativity, perhaps, but what was the hidden cost? How many lives, including my own, were invisibly chained to this supply system?  In the end I had to leave that job, in order to stop being part of a system that exploited many, while helping a few, as I saw it, and in order to try to live a more creative life myself.

I chose to slack.

Life often presents these kinds of dilemmas.  If you work hard, you get a pat on the back from your boss, and maybe even a ten cents per hour raise,  and the little 'puritan ethic' believer inside you feels good.  But if you begin to wonder whether the results of all your hard work are really good for the world, or even for yourself, you might fall into painful inner conflicts.  It comes down to this:  doesn't the goodness of hard work and achievement depend, in part,  on the overall goodness  of the system in which it takes place?

I think we see some of these conflicts in Rondo, though he may not think about it that way.  It's interesting to see the way his many critics assume that the NBA is somehow a shining source of goodness in life!  It's unthinkable to most that anyone might choose to buck 'the system' in any way.  They seem to accept the idea that the system ultimately defines who is good and who is bad, what is good and what is bad.   Personally, I dig it when Rondo hangs up on the NBA!!   Many fans, though, seem to see such behavior as sheer madness.

I love Rondo for his iconoclastic attitude as much as for anything.  He's like the boulder that the boa constrictor just can't quite swallow.  He's not quite willing to go-along-to-get-along.  He reminds me of that old Mellencamp song, "Authority Song":

I fight authority and authority always wins,

I fight authority and authority alwaaaays wii-iins!


Still, I can't help but feel that Rondo's rebelliousness would be easier to take if he worked harder on the basketball court.  I can't say that I want him to be just like Avery Bradley.   I wouldn't watch basketball just to watch Bradley.  I love how hard the guy works, but come on, there's so much more to life than being a cog in a machine, you know?!  I can't help but love the way Rondo bolluxes up the machine sometimes, the way he does the unexpected, but somehow comes out on the other side with an even better 'achievement'.  Maybe that's what makes Bradley and Rondo so great together.  Bradley is the dogged, hard worker.  Rondo is the unorthodox guy, always doing the unexpected.  You see it on defense the most.  Bradley sticks to his guy like glue.  Rondo appears from nowhere to disrupt a pass, or cut off a lane.  Put them together and they seem to inspire each other, while confounding the other team.  

I've often compared Rondo to Rodman.  I think Rodman was a lot about 'slack'.   You could see it in the way he tried to challenge conventional notions of behavior, of propriety, and even of hard work.  He'd often look like he was loafing on the court, but at the end of the game, he'd have grabbed 16 rebounds.  He liked to make the other team forget about him.  Rondo too loves to do that.  You can see how much he loves it.  He loves to look like he's doing nothing, like maybe he's even zoned out completely, then suddenly he dashes to the hoop, or he shoots off a pass.   Rondo loves to play with the notion of time itself, I do believe.  A lot of fans, especially the 'experts', make no attempt to understand this aspect of his game, or maybe once in a while they write some patronizing bit of philosophizing, like Flannery did when he talked about Rondo being a 'cubist'.  He was on the right track there, I think, but to him it was just a throw off piece, I think.  It was just another way of saying that Rondo is an oddball, that he's somehow not a real basketball player.

I think it would be a huge mistake for the Celtics to trade Rondo.  We are all, even his staunchest fans, I think, deeply disappointed with the year he has had so far.  But I think we also need to recognize that this is a guy who is working out complicated equations in his head on the court.  Sometimes the answers take a while to come out.  We need to have a little zen in our heads.  We need to 'slack' a little.  Maybe A plus  B  equals C.   But what if A plus 3 minus # times N = ??  I want to know the answer to that one.   i want to see great, solid, blue collar basketball, but I want to see the unexpected and even the  uncanny too.  I want to see Rondo and the Cs confound the experts and the know-it-alls and the stat-heads.    I want to see basketball that delights both the puritan and the slacker inside me, both the achiever and the dancer.  

But Rajon, you've got to pick up the pace.    It's high noon for you and for your basketball career.  The Zen of Slack should tell you that sometimes, to slack is not to slack, and to work hard is to slack.  

That makes total sense, doesn't it?

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Reply Greg
1:59 PM on January 11, 2013 
Thank you for the personal touch on this post. This year was supposed to be the year Rondo broke out, and became the MVP figure,but frankly he's still the same player.
Reply Kevin
2:01 PM on January 11, 2013 
No way the Celtics trade Rondo during his current contract.