Ask Me About the Baptist
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.
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.