|Posted by paul on February 23, 2013 at 9:45 AM|
Lee Jenkins at Sports Illustrated has written possibly the most revelatory piece about Rondo to date...
The picture of Rondo that emerges perhaps does much to explain the way Rondo struggled to lead the Celtics this year, and I suspect that it's not too far from the picture of Rondo most of us had in our minds already. Rondo's almost preternatural talents, physical and mental, equip him to change the way people see the game of basketball, but negotiating the pitfalls of social life is problematic for the young superstar, and that in turn makes the leadership role that he really can't avoid difficult to figure out.
It's often been pointed out that Rondo is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, a puzzle with pieces that just don't seem to fit, a question that alway leads to new questions. In a way it's all true, and maybe it's even part of the Rondo Mystique at this point. At his best, Rondo fascinates, inspires, tantalizes. Apparently Rondo's favorite play by Rondo is the balletic 360 whirling pass he threw to Ray Allen last year for the corner three. Who can forget that play? I guess it's too Cirque De Soleil for some. For Bob Ryan. Perhaps it was too Rudolph Nureyev for some. Too damned BRILLIANT for some.
My personal favorite play by Rondo this year was the one where Rondo attacked the lane from the left baseline, and threw down a skyhook, of all things, over the best defensive center in the league, Tyson Chandler, from the middle of the lane. Didja ever think you'd see a 6 foot guy throw down a skyhook over Tyson Chandler? I'll bet he never thought he'd see it either. Another time Chandler confronted Rondo way out at the right-side high post, so Rondo just backed him down into the paint, working him back and forth, until the two of them were right under the basket, at which point reached Rondo out his arm at approximately waste level and scooped the ball in from there, almost vertically. WTF was that?! Was that a horizontal sky hook?! Amazing stuff. Next time Chandler saw Rondo, he knocked Rondo on his butt.
Sometimes that's the sign of real respect from a Big!
Rondo has earned an almost unheard of, Bobby-Orr-like, respect from some of the greatest players in the game today, or ever. One of the most amazing things I've ever seen in basketball was when Rondo went down with the ACL injury, and Kobe started ostentaciously playing like Rondo, even to the point of throwing a Rondo-style assist to a teammate on a breakaway fastbreak, the kind of pass Celtics media and fans froth over so often. It was a truly incredible display of respect and honor to Rondo from one of the five or six best players in the history of the game. Rondo has earned this respect not only because he comes up with astounding plays on a regular basis, but also because he can impact a game on multiple levels like no other player when he is really on fire. We've all seen it. Grabbing 20 rebounds. Scoring impossible baskets. Picking the opposing defense apart. Not only stealing the ball, but disrupting the opposing offense with deflections. Rondo's Haters say that he only cares about stats. Well, if that's true, it's odd that he deflects the ball so much on defense, since many of those end up as steals for others...
Selfish jerk serves up steals for his teammates!
But we all know the other side of the coin. Rondo going into funks. Rondo having issues with teammates. This season turned into a kind of Rondo trainwreck, as Rondo seemed unable to communicate with his teammates, even though he seemed to be trying. Sometimes it seemed like the more Rondo tried, the more the gap between him and the rest of the team grew. Probably no one really wanted it to be this way. Rondo is just so ... difficult. He's not like everyone else. He's like the kid in school who just didn't seem to know how to fit in, like he's missed out on something along the way, like he never got the memo. A lot of Rondo fans probably know something about how that feels...
The Jenkins article is an enlightening read with that in mind. Apparently the Celtics office quickly realized, when Rondo came to the team, that meeting with the public was tough for Rondo, so tough that the Cs ended up arranging for Rondo to meet the public behind a table and Cross Four games, when ever he did publicity events. In a way, the real star of Jenkins' article is Cross Four. I've never played Cross Four, but I guess it's played with upright plastic stands and little round chips. It sounds like this game has been Rondo's way of simultaneously hiding from the world and connecting with the world since childhood. Apparently he used to set it up on the porch of his mom's house, taking on all comers. Now he does the same at public events. It's touching, but it's kindof sad too, isn't it? We are talking about a 27 year old man who still seems to hide socially behind a childhood game, yet who also faces the challenge of leading a basketball team in the toughest hot-house atmosphere there is, the NBA. It takes a lot of social skills to lead a professional sports team, it seems to me. Here is a guy who is fazed by a roomful of schoolkids. I can understand it, but I'll bet a lot of folks can't.
Of course I don't mean that you have to be any etiquette contest winner to lead an NBA team. I can't think of any NBA leader who is an example of fine manners! But you have to find a way to negotiate the rough social waters created by 15 of the biggest egos in the world, all with separate agendas, all needing to somehow blend into one. Imagine office politics in a hothouse atmosphere.
This season, it seemed like Rondo was pretty much run over and pushed out of the way by a bunch of players who were never really that interested in following Rondo's lead. As I think we've discussed here many times, there are a lot of things that Rondo could have done that might have made things easier for him. Unfortunately, he seemed to start the season with some ill-considered ideas about how he needed to play considering the personnel of this team, and then Rondo's stubbornness set in, especially as Rondo seemed to come under unfair attack from the media.
It will be interesting to see how Rondo develops during his forced absence from the game. I hope he starts by telling Red Bull to take a break, so that he can focus. In the end, he's got to find his own personal way to make peace with the game. I would guess that the harping media, and the fawning handlers (I presume) at Big Red really could care less. Sometimes things worth working out just take a little longer to work out.