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.