5.11.2009

Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known



The man who made a certain famous comment has returned to expand upon his initial germ of genius. Ladies and gentlemen, Damian Garde:

As far as NBA platitudes go, among the oldest and most yawn-inducing is the idea that players sacrifice everything for the team. Whether their bodies, their egos or their stats — we want our heroes to be selfless at some cost. But all that seems petty compared to the transformation of Rajon Rondo. Beyond making the extra pass, beyond diving for a loose ball, Rondo gave up his innocence for the Boston Celtics.

It seemed sudden in the moment but natural in retrospect. The boyish, long-lashed work in progress who unabashedly discusses his love for roller-skating and keeps Chap Stick in his sock turned into a volatile rebounding machine who’d smack you in the face and throw your Kansas ass into a table on general principle. But it wasn’t a flash of deep-seeded rage or some misguided ploy for street cred or respect. In Game 5, Paul Pierce — who is perhaps a dramatist, a masochist, or both — was playing hurt; Ray Allen had uncharacteristically fouled out; and Kevin Garnett was caged in a suit on the sidelines. Rondo — like a young Dr. Doom, like the child soldier who kills because it’s the only alternative to dying — became evil solely as a survival mechanism.

But like any evolution, Rondo’s has not been without growing pains. In Game 5’s post-game news conference, when the foul on Brad Miller got brought up, Rondo sheepishly lowered his head and, oddly, let Kendrick Perkins defend him before mentioning that, yes, Miller is much bigger than him. This can’t be overlooked — the Celtics have gone out of their way to defend what he did, and when pressed, Rondo only points out the perceived injustice that, excuse the pun, forced his hand. Further straddling the line between a sudden, very adult fury and his boyish nature, Rondo left that conference to share a post-game dinner with the guy who played McLovin.



Following last year’s championship run, Rondo was a league rarity: a name player without a creation myth. Taken late in the first round, Rondo spent his rookie season battling with Sebastian Telfair and Delonte West (a triumvirate pregnant with meaning, if I’ve ever seen one) for minutes at the point. Despite proving himself as a serviceable PG, he was seen as a lanky uncertainty after Boston’s summertime transition into a juggernaut. Even this season was spent somewhat in the wilderness: There were flashes of brilliance, followed by no-shows. And that probably should have made his playoff christening all the more predictable — few furies match that of a man in search of his own legend. And isn’t it only natural that, raised by three of the best self-mythologizers in the game, Rondo would eventually come into his own? After all, Paul Pierce need only touch a wheelchair to pack the theater; KG screams at the God who scorned him after an easy rebound; and, well, Jesus Shuttlesworth is Jesus Shuttlesworth.

But while Rondo’s newfound identity is perhaps as theatrical as those of his wolf-parents, its rawness makes it unsettling. Garnett, as intense as any player since cocaine stood in for Gatorade, is controlled genocide and often rides murder to work. His demons, volatile as they may be, forever bow to him. Rondo, who provided the waifish, just-happy-to-be here levity last season, now has the soiled hands of an off-the-handle bruiser. But, in a sense, he has the worst of both worlds: His fury is shaky and noncommittal. In Game 6, it was tempting to see Rose’s block as the hero’s impossible feat to thwart the supervillain. But aside from his squabble with Hinrich, Rondo was somewhat less explosive in that game. However, that didn’t stop the dawn of the new narrative: Rose, the golden, acne ridden beacon of Stern’s master plan, versus Rondo, the shifty, Gollum-like trickster.

Doin' Dirt: A Visual Taxonomy




(Chart by Ziller)

Facts don’t matter in the face of such montage fodder, and, thus, the new reality. Even though Rondo has been emotionally (and statistically) calmer in this Orlando series, his wide-eyed exuberance is gone, replaced by a quiet menace lost on no one. Obviously, his whole career is ahead of him, and it’s impossible to say with authority whether this identity will stick or be just a hiccup on the way to becoming Chris Paul Lite (It’s worth noting, however, that he’s probably the only 23 year old I’ve heard described as “wily”). But even if he goes on to become Isiah, we can never get jaded to the myth of Rondo. We were there, and we saw the boy in him die.

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20 Comments:

At 5/11/2009 3:34 PM, Blogger The Other Van Gundy said...

The comment that inspired this post was so on target it actually renders this rumination on it superfluous, but I enjoyed it anyway.

I'm liking the guest lecture series.

 
At 5/11/2009 3:40 PM, Blogger milaz said...

I'm actually beginning to enjoy FD. It's been a love/hate relationship for me at times, but it's the only basketball site that makes sense lately...

 
At 5/11/2009 3:50 PM, Blogger Kellen said...

One of the favorite things I've read about the playoffs.

Chart question: Scola is on the art end of skilled? That's finding beauty in the neighborhood brook when you live next to Niagra falls.

 
At 5/11/2009 3:53 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

This is about different kinds of dirty players. We just forgot to mention that.

 
At 5/11/2009 3:56 PM, Blogger Ziller said...

Kellen -- I'm not opposed to that viewpoint. Who would be Niagara Falls in this analogy?

(I should note we struggled most on the arty end of the "skilled" spectrum and "tough." We decided that it's near impossible to separate toughness and fugaz in today's NBA. See: Perkins, Kendrick.)

 
At 5/11/2009 4:04 PM, Blogger dunces said...

It's like Bowen as Colonel Kurtz, I love it.

What's Rondo going to do when he gets to the end of the river?

 
At 5/11/2009 5:17 PM, Blogger Tree Frog said...

The Guest Lectures here have been so strong.

Somehow, I believe that Rondo will not turn into the jungle tyrant that Garnett became. We were made aware of his innocence through his choice to be open about his life outside basketball in a way that Garnett, Pierce and Allen have never done.

If only Gerald Wallace was that open...

 
At 5/11/2009 5:57 PM, Blogger John said...

Amazing essay. I've enjoyed thinking about Rondo as a young mini Garnett this post season as he picks himself and his team up and wins.

 
At 5/11/2009 6:23 PM, Blogger Jeff Fox said...

Rondo is such a better player than I expected he would become in the NBA. No way did I expect him to be a mainstream-known player and a talking point.

 
At 5/11/2009 7:16 PM, Blogger BPH said...

What was the comment that inspired this -- link, anyone?

 
At 5/11/2009 7:43 PM, Blogger photoguy said...

and yet- rondo is still the innocent- witness the way he brings that ball up... can we make the ball bounce higher? or let's let it roll til it Really tempts the opposing pg and then wrastle it back if you have to.. he's just got so much pressure on him as the traditional scorers break down for the green and he's left holding the bag... did anyone ever tell him that he Needed to get 20 ppg plus dish plus rebound plus defend at a C level? I somehow think not- the job description really changed when KG went down and the dirt he may be connecting to is connected to that.

 
At 5/11/2009 8:55 PM, Blogger djturtleface said...

Love it, but there's so much nuance missing. Perhaps rightly so, it would take 3000 words to even come close to explaining the death of Rondo, but it only leaves me wondering if a profound change has really, fully, occurred.

I mean, here we're talking about a kid that got carried off the court because his feet hurt, not unlike a child after his day at the zoo is over. But we're also talking about the foxy little bitch that clearly pushed himself into the stands off Dwight Howard's Herculean torso to get the loose ball foul in the last game.

...Something tells me if you moved Rondo to Memphis all he would want to do is dunk and shoot threes. In other words, his tutelage, and transformation, is nowhere near complete.

 
At 5/11/2009 10:55 PM, Blogger Kellen said...

What I was trying to get it is simply that I don't even think of Scola as a particularly dirty player, at least compared to the others who make the chart. In general, I guess I don't even think of Scola in the same class of player as most of the others on the chart. There wasn't someone in particular I had in mind, I just thought it was clever to notice that in Scola.

That said I'm really interested at seeing a list of players who ought to be considered artfully dirty.

 
At 5/12/2009 3:41 AM, Blogger Alexander J said...

Everyone here is an amazon.com fan so they might as well check out Lewis Hyde's Trickster Makes This World, that shit talks about all sorts of tweeners, Hermes being the primary example from which all others seem to derivate.

I must say the re-birth (death being a slow process that we have seen through in the last few years with the zygote Rondo) of the guy as tough on both ends of the floor is something to behold. Mini-Garnett seems so hyperbolic though; I think the influence there is obvious, but it's really that trinity of Pierce, Allen and KG that created some type of conduit for transmission of a seemingly forgotten style of reckless abandon.

Bowen during the championship years was dirty like the vinyl sounds on a madlib beat.

 
At 5/12/2009 4:43 AM, Blogger The Bush said...

Is it me or does being "dirty" no longer count as character flaw amongst fans "in the know"? It seems that people are easily able to compartmentalize that aspect of a player from their overall judgment of a player. "Dirty", grammatically speaking is just a qualifier that no one really cares about. I find myself straddling the fence on being the passionate, emotion driven fan who yells for Brad Miller to make Rondo a splat on the court, and the refined connoisseur of the game who views things objectively and defines Rondo's acts in terms of character, growth, narrative or simply a will to win.

By the way when the Roes narrative was cited I became somewhat giddy because I feel that will resurface much sooner than later. I also enjoyed that this post was not so much a commentary on Rondo, but rather a story of Rondo that invited commentary.

 
At 5/12/2009 11:39 AM, OpenID deckfight said...

i still think what we're seeing out of rondo is some type of cohesion of being around three extremely talented players all the time--at first copying them, and then coming into his own. did anybody read that OTL piece on Billups at the Leader? Since him and Garnett were essentially equal (in age) on the Wolves, Billups credits Sam Mitchell and Terrell Brandon for his development. Think if Billups could have paid attention to Reggie Miller or John Stockton back then--and that's what Rondo's getting right now. In essence--I'm arguing for nurture over nature in the case of Rondo, though he had the sense to pay attention unlike Bassy.

 
At 5/12/2009 2:42 PM, Blogger Obsolete Venacular said...

"Artfully Dirty" = John Stockton?

 
At 5/12/2009 7:15 PM, Blogger Grish said...

Dirty = crafty + repetition.

 
At 5/12/2009 11:52 PM, OpenID Bryant said...

It's absolutely been the trinity of PP, Ray, and KG that've influenced Rondo -- for a brief time the rap in Boston was that Ray was the only guy who could get through to Rondo. This is clearly untrue, but Ray's work ethic is all over Rondo's play style.

So is Pierce's willingness to shoot. That hasn't served the kid terribly well so far.

However, I don't think you can consider the influence on Rondo alone. You have to look at the entire mini-trinity, who're currently attempting to own a series against Orlando. What have the Big Three taught Perkins? What have they taught Glen Davis? What does it mean when Paul Pierce, who is always willing to take the last shot, dishes it off to Glen Davis (of all people)?

And this must be appreciated in the context of Celtics history. The myth of Celtics tradition is powerful, even if it faded during the Pitino years. (The Celtics must never hire a celebrity coach. The coach can't overshadow the Franchise.) Part of that myth is the succession: the sixth man moving into the starting lineup. Havlicek linked the 60s to the 70s. Dave Cowens was a tenuous link between the 70s and Bird.

The death of Len Bias (did anyone else notice the reference in Fringe tonight?) was a greater blow because it broke that link. Pitino's rant about Bird walking through the door was antithetical to the myth.

Pierce, Garnett, and Allen may jump start the succession again -- and that's why Davis, Perkins, and Rondo are so important.

 
At 5/14/2009 6:58 PM, Blogger Robin said...

I've been mulling over Rondo for a while now, and I don't think there's a good way to give his mythology any structure. Before this season, he was to me a curious role player - a rookie given the task of organizing the celtic's offense. Is his development a natural extension of who he is? Or is his current incarnation an artificial result of being pressed into spot duty around the Big Three? I'd say it's a bit of both, but the two factors really meld into each other. His offensive rebounding is solely his, as it sometimes comes at the expense of his team. But what about the lack of a jumpshot, and how he can coolly rack up triple doubles regardless? Was he never expected to develop a jumpshot? Did he never think of it as necessary? Or is his lack of a jumpshot a blessing in disguise, forcing him to dominate the game with his darts towards the basket when he would otherwise settle for spot-up shots?

 

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