6.14.2010

Ask Me About the Baptist

one

It's come to this. Yes, it's come to this. I suppose there are many courageous thoughts to have about last night's Celtics win, like how much they deserve to win it all if that keeps up. I wake up dreaming of titles and go to sleep crying about them. I live like a champion. But while I've gotten in a few sidelong remarks about Rondo's progress, and how a player who has always fascinated me has really taken it to the streets . . . now, it is the time of reckoning. The dams of restraint, and fatigue, have burst, and I can do nothing today but wonder: how and why does such an athlete exist?

Philosophically speaking, Rajon Rondo is my ideal basketball player. I say this when, in about thirty seconds, I'll be asked to explain my feelings for John Wall on pre-taped radio. Don't get me wrong, I still believe in Wall and his ability to throw basketball into a tizzy. Rondo, though, takes not such a direct route to dominance. I have perhaps been too caught up in his autodidact's legend; it dovetails a little too well with both my love of Other-ly foreign players, as well as rumbling, unfettered creativity that in LeBron James, we trace back to joy, not method. His mode of presentation, though, is as much Garnett as is his freakish build and skill-set. KG is at once out of control and totally within himself, exploiting the world's perception of the mask he can't help. I don't feel bad saying that Rondo comes across as otherworldly and borderline autistic; Doc Rivers swears the man loves to communicate, but is hard to get to. For opponents, that veneer of weird, tinged with hostility and detachment, is damn hard to read. Thus, for Rondo, personality becomes a weapon.

If I'm stumbling, or raving, here, pardon. This has been building for a while and at some point, it couldn't grovel to responsibility all that much longer. At last night's SSSBDA meeting, I had a major breakthrough: Physically, Rondo isn't an alien, or a dinosaur. He's an alien-dinosaur. Or, as Kevin corrected, a dinosaur-alien. Alien-dinosaur would just be a space lizard; dinosaur-alien is creature from other realms overlaid with the qualities of a raptor. This is the first of several times I will repeat this statement: This is no physical being like Rondo. Yes, his arms are long, his speed beyond speech. But there's also his wiry strength, his internal gyroscope (at its best when spooling along with a bit of wobble), those impossibly broad shoulders, calculating gaze, and a face too smooth and empty for this town.

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We are nearly arrived at the point of actual basketball. There's a pause here, a beat, and then no turning back. Here's what astounds me most about Rajon Rondo: He is pure style, with an almost nasty disregard for formalism. How often does Rondo make the same move twice? When he succeeds, does he attempt to repeat himself? And, more to the point, does anything in his game suggests he learned the canon, or anything resembling fundamentals? That's not to suggest that RR is a sloppy, or showy player. Nope, on top of all that, he makes the most gnarled, baroque maneuver turn into a given. There's nothing self-consciously fancy or stylized about him. Rondo simply creates, going on what works, and refusing to acknowledge boundaries of good taste or the existence of time-honored solutions. He acknowledges only the situation at hand, the players on the floor, and the forces he feels working against his mechanical will.

Rondo has no sweet spot, no geometry. Even the multi-valent Kobe Bryant tends toward certain areas. Rondo, he could be anywhere, and everywhere at once, toss up the shot or pass it off at any time. At all times, he knows exactly where he stands in relation to the basket and his fellow man. Most astounding of all is how, with Rondo, the most haphazard, loose, or wild moves will resolve into something utterly precise: a wild lay-up that bounces off the glass just so, a shovel pass swung from up high that hits the waiting man, an over-assertive dribble, nearly wild, that sheds all defenders and leaves him out in space alone. Most players get anxious or excited in that situation. Rondo carries himself like he's been there all along, like it's our fault we can't always see this. I believe somewhere in the archives, there's a piece about string theory and many dimensions and worlds unseen. That seems applicable here, as do out-of-phase sound and The Ghost Whisperer.

I suppose the lack of a jumper should bother me. Looking at the way he negotiates space, though, it's hard to fault Rondo for something as trivial as range. He can rearrange defenders like garden furniture, set them scattering with a flash of arms and legs that (yes, I'm resorting to musical analogies) is like the second line version of Ornette's early Prime Time. When we talk about LeBron James expanding basketball's parameters, Kobe Bryant seeing things others can't, or the presumed Frankenstein PG game of John Wall, we deal with—cue the Rumsfeld—the known busting apart at the seams. Yup, unknown knowns, where nevertheless we have the known as a foundation.

Rondo doesn't just work with a different foundation; he's anti-foundational, even. For himself, for the sport, even for the personae we try and latch onto as fans. He isn't progress, or variation, or even an eccentric. Rondo is the strangest player I have ever had the privilege of watching. To locate him in the game's unconscious is the safer, easier explanation. Rajon Rondo is an outsider—or an original who burrows that word back to its own lost beginnings. I have no idea if this kind of athlete happens more often than I think, but for now, I like to think I'm watching a true basketball alien.

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23 Comments:

At 6/14/2010 12:36 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Rondo is Isiah without the jumpshot. Same set of nads, same will, and almost the same court awareness and grasp of the majesty of the Cousy-esque bounce pass but just a little smoother. A pure freak o nature and a transcendent joy to watch.

 
At 6/14/2010 1:32 PM, Blogger Deckfight said...

perhaps he is steve francis without anyone ever telling him he could be a scorer. rondo's ability to disrupt is almost like those "score-first" PGs going off--without the usual means of what ppl think of "scoring."

 
At 6/14/2010 1:51 PM, Blogger vp said...

my friends and I have a term for circus-type shots that are simply ridiculous - 'toiney...named of course after our beloved (and yes we LOVE him) antoine walker who took the most absurd shots ever...about 25% of the time they went in and 75% of the time they never even hit the rim.

I find myself with the knee-jerk reaction to yell out at rondo "NO! that's so 'toiney!" - but honestly he almost always makes those crazy shots...like this backhanded kisser of the top of the class last night - a "horse shot" as one of the commentators called it.

somehow rondo defies 'toiney. the circus shots cease to be circus-y...because he seems in control even when presenting us with the absurd.

 
At 6/14/2010 2:42 PM, Blogger T.A.N. said...

I like this post. Rondo strikes as the perfect FD avatar, in that he inhabits this space you detail, but hasn't been tainted/corrupted by the FD narrative/consciousness. He was slept on and prevailed. Perfect sleeper cell. and perfectly inscrutable in a way the pantheon could never be specifically because they are pantheon.

Joey recently had a comment (after the fall of Lebron) about how James disrupted the powers of NBA determinism. I disagreed with his conclusion, but still abide by the NBA's prevailing virtue as the sport most capable of distilling The Best out of its playoff system. If the Celtics win, I presume Rondo will have been The Best (haven't been watching, only clips; could be a full-on Team Victory). And he'll be testament to the NBA's triumph over divine deities like Kobe, Lebron. I see it as a win for FD also. Stars come and go, the game and FD will last forever ...

 
At 6/14/2010 4:56 PM, Blogger Teach said...

Some of your phrasings in this piece give Rondo a Moby Dick-like aesthetic, where he becomes this tangible symbol for, well, everything.

 
At 6/14/2010 10:02 PM, Blogger Kellen said...

I love it. Made me want to go back and read this http://freedarko.blogspot.com/2009/05/strange-fits-of-passion-have-i-known.html

 
At 6/15/2010 9:04 AM, Blogger W2 said...

Rondo is the perfect balancing act to the work man like game of Pierce, the maniacal-overlord Garnett, the statuesque Perkins, and the automaton that is Ray Allen. Each of them a yo-yo on a string on his long fingers.

 
At 6/15/2010 10:37 AM, Blogger Two Ls in Cassell said...

Rondo would not have been possible in the 90s to early 00s era. Some old dude like Derek Harper would have just held him, or just shoved him down into the paint, where he would have gotten clobbered by Charles Oakley.

This isn't to discount his talent at all, but I think it explains why we haven't seen anyone like him. Given the dominance of the PG position (a product of rule changes), I think we'll see a few more Rondos--maybe not as his level, but modeled after him.

As for the comps, Ty Lawson is the closest thing in the league right now. While dribbling, he claims every bit of real estate from the three point line to the charge circle, zipping in and out effortlessly. Like Rondo, he has insane finishing skills. If Elliot Williams learns to play the point, he could be like 65% of Rondo, which is still pretty fucking good.

Shoals, what is his ceiling? Guess it depends on how Ainge and company handle the transition... As long as he's playing with a competent cast, I see 6 All Star Game appearances, 1 first team All NBA selection.

 
At 6/15/2010 1:56 PM, Blogger Baby Hornacek said...

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At 6/15/2010 1:59 PM, Blogger Baby Hornacek said...

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At 6/15/2010 3:37 PM, Blogger Michael said...

I really do not understand why everyone jumps on the rando bandwagon. He is a freak athlete, but do you really believe that he is a better point guard than derron williams, steve nash, or chris paul (even though he was hurt). Rando is able to shine because of the 3 hall of famers on his team. He is a good player but not what people make him out to be.

 
At 6/15/2010 3:46 PM, Blogger Baby Hornacek said...

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At 6/15/2010 3:50 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Its not that you jumped on and liked him. If people like him thats fine, i don't care if your favorite player is adam morrison thats your decision. But I think it is absurd how much credit he is given. There are many PG's in the league that if given the chance could produce similar numbers. When the big 3 are gone we will see, hopefully he proves me wrong... but i doubt it.

 
At 6/15/2010 4:01 PM, Blogger Baby Hornacek said...

Without the big 3 odds are he isn't making the finals (much like all the other PGs on that list). To say the big 3 are the reason he looks good this year really isn't fair. KG may have managed to find a harmony between sanity and effectiveness as of late but I don't know about you but I thought the Celtics were destined for a first round exit. Rondo ignited something. (That and Vince Carter who's bandwagon is battered and missing a wheel at this point)

If anything Rondo was the ultimate championship PG. He runs the ship, steps up when nothing else is working and when the team is clicking again he's more than willing to let them click.
That's very different from Chris Paul letting Jannero Pargo take every shot in the 4th quarter against the Lakers in 08. Not to knock CP of course.

 
At 6/15/2010 4:56 PM, Blogger Teach said...

About people jumping on the Rondo bandwagon...it didn't start this year; it started last season when he was a triple double machine in the playoffs, without KG. Things may have snowballed from there, but the momentum did not start this season; and it did not start with KG on the floor. While some of us may be hyping him, it makes no sense either to suggest that any PG would be doing what he's doing with the Celtics. Ray Felton, for example, is no Rajon Rondo.

 
At 6/15/2010 7:17 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

On Sunday night on NBATV following Game 5, Rick Kamla was in the studio with Steve Smith and Brent Barry. They had Rondo live via video hookup. Rather than discussing basketball, Kamla asked Rondo to clarify the pronunciation of his first name: "Is it RAY-jahn, ray-JAHN, RAH-jahn, or rah-JAHN?" Rondo gave an awkward smile and supplied the answer: "RAH-JAHN". Kamla exclaimed with delight: "Oh, it's rah-JAHN! Glad we cleared that up!" Rondo's smile grew grimmer. Kamla proceeded to pronounce it the wrong way for the next 20 minutes.

 
At 6/17/2010 11:05 AM, Blogger MC Welk said...

If FD had "fallen off" this post certainly props it back up. I'll be wearing my shirt proudly on draft night.

 
At 6/17/2010 3:12 PM, Blogger New Tinsley said...

Shoals, no thoughts on game 7?

 
At 6/17/2010 3:19 PM, Blogger ra said...

Curious thing about Rondo is just how much better he is when faced with an insane degree of difficulty, and how bad he can be when he runs up against little or no resistance. I don't know if he's somehow bored by uncontested jumpers and free throws, or if it's how his game is affected by relations of time. It's as if Rondo's at home when the flow of time is at it's most liquid, but unable to handle moments in which time is subordinated to space. I might be going off the deep end here, but it's the only way I can wrap my head around such predictable inconsistency.

 
At 6/17/2010 3:47 PM, Blogger Baby Hornacek said...

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At 6/18/2010 12:46 PM, OpenID Bryant said...

I just wanted to come back and touch this post again. A handful of seconds left, Rondo's just made an unlikely three point shot, because he didn't have time to think about it. And he's hounding Kobe up the court. And...

The steal was that close. That close.

As a Celtics fan, I can think of worse things than last night's loss, and here's one of them: that Rondo won't have the chance to show off what he can do in the next ten years. I hope Ainge can build a new team that's as well suited for him.

 
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