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Thursday, May 27th, 2010 at 3:23 pm  |  51 responses

Links: Talking With Rajon Rondo

“I feel like I’m the best at what I do…”

by Lang Whitaker

A couple of weeks ago, the day after the Celtics won Game 2 of their series against the Cavs in Cleveland, I spent a couple of hours hanging out with Celtics PG Rajon Rondo. Doc Rivers had given the Celts a day off, but instead of me going up to Boston to see Rondo, I only had to travel as far as 57th Street here in Manhattan; with a day to kill, Rondo had stopped in New York City for the day to attend the premiere of Just Wright, in which he has a cameo.

I met up with Rondo in the lobby of the Four Seasons, where he was crashing for the day, and where he was hanging out post-lunch, rocking a white t-shirt, jeans and pair of red Vans. He also had on a pair of customized Celtics headphones with the word “UBUNTU” printed on the side. We went up to his suite and, with TV One playing the background, we talked for a while, about basketball, about life, about how he got to where he is today, about playing with the Big Three, and a lot about fame and how he’s been received and perceived.

The great irony, of course, is that in between me interviewing him and this story dropping in next issue of SLAM (it hits the streets next week, and Ben will do a post on the site when it drops), Rondo has gone from being seen as a key supporting player for Boston to perhaps their most important, from unknown to casual fans to being on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

My full interview with Rondo will be in SLAM 140.

For now, here are some bits and pieces…

LW: Last night on TNT, at halftime of the game where you finished with 19 assists, Charles Barkley gave his top three point guards.

RR: I heard, I didn’t see it.

Charles said his top three point guards were number one, Deron Williams, number two was Chris Paul, number three was Derrick Rose. Chris Paul was on the set and he didn’t seem too happy about it.

I heard about that. But Charles, he’s gonna speak his mind.

So my question to you is, where do you think you rank?

Me? I think I’m one. I feel like I’m the best at what I do. That’s just how I put it. That’s how I play. I love my match-ups against those three guys, every time I play against them. I’m biased, but I feel like I’m the best.

Do you play better when you think that way?

I play better, I think, when there’s more pressure on. But I’m still a pass-first point guard. All three of those point guards have different roles, those three guys you named. They have to initiate offense. Speaking of Chris and Deron, every time down they pretty much have to create everything for their teams. Same with Derrick now. Me, the reason I’m probably not considered top three with them is because I’m playing with the Big Three. But that’s people’s opinion. I’ll continue to get better, as I’m sure those guys will. But that’s just people’s opinions. I feel like I’m the best.

But you made the All-Star team this year.

Yeah, but people probably don’t even know I made the All-Star team. Some don’t, some do.

But you played down the stretch when it mattered…

Yeah, but Bron was running the point. I was just out there (laughs).

*    *    *

LW: You played all kinds of sports growing up, right?

RR: I played, baseball, football, basketball.

What did you play in baseball?

Pitcher and shortstop, some centerfield.

Could you hit?

I could hit a little bit. I played baseball at Oak Hill when I was in high school, actually. I stopped hitting the ball when they started throwing curveballs to me; I couldn’t hit those for nothing. Then I got hit with a ball, and after that it was like, I don’t want to bat any more. Somebody pinch hit for me. I got hit in the leg with a 90 mile an hour fastball. I was like, that’s enough. I’ll stick to basketball.

At some point you must have realized that you had a future in basketball, right?

When I went to Oak Hill. I went to Oak Hill, and I knew Josh Smith was going to the League. I thought, OK, if he’s going to the League out of high school, and I’m just as good as him and put up the same numbers, even though we’re different positions, I was confident. I knew I could play, because we’d traveled across the country playing against the best high school players, going to ABCD camps, playing against guys who were considered pro material like Sebastian Telfair and Shaun Livingston. I was like, I can do this for real. So I got serious and started working at it. That was before my senior year.

When you decide to go to Oak Hill, that’s like going off to college.

You know, I went and didn’t even take a visit. It was crazy. The first two months were the hardest months ever. Because you don’t really know anybody, there’s no cell phone signal, reception.

And it’s in the middle of nowhere.

Middle of nowhere, no money, just stuck on campus, living in a room with a guy you just met. My first roommate was a guy named Marcus Nicks, another point guard. We got along but we were battling for the position. Then me and Josh became roommates and we were tight ever since.

*    *    *

LW: You got drafted by Phoenix and traded to Boston. Do you ever think about what would’ve happened if you ended up with Phoenix?

RR: I wouldn’t have a ring. I wouldn’t be playing (laughs). I mean, I would be learning the game, but I think the best way to learn the game and get experience is by playing. Playing behind Nash would be a good thing, but I’m probably learning more having the ball in my hands and playing for Coach Rivers, who was a point guard in the League for so long.

Has playing in the NBA been what you thought it would be like?

I didn’t know what to expect, really. I wasn’t a big NBA fan growing up. I didn’t watch it. I just knew it was the highest level of basketball you could be at, and I just wanted to be there.

What was the closest NBA team to Louisville?

Pacers. It’s an hour-and-half drive. I never went to a game.

Had you ever been to an NBA game as a fan before you actually played in a game?

My first NBA game as a fan was a Miami Heat game in the Playoffs in 2006, right before I came to the League. Derek Anderson invited me to a game. It wasn’t the Finals — they did win it that year — but it was the Playoffs. I didn’t watch the NBA until maybe my freshman year of college, because I was trying to get there. It just wasn’t interesting to me.

It’s always funny to hear guys who grew up watching it. Guys your age, their favorite player of all time will be someone who played in the early ‘90s.

Yeah, I don’t know any of those guys. KG always gets on me about that, and the older guys on my team. I mean, I’ve never even seen Jordan play, really. I just didn’t watch it.

So you’d never really seen Kevin play.

Never seen Kevin play.

Do you feel like that puts you at a disadvantage at all?

Nah, not really. Some people try to mimic their games after certain players, but I never really did…

It’s probably a good thing, because you don’t learn any bad habits trying to copy other dudes.

Maybe it’s a good thing, maybe it’s a bad thing. I don’t think it’s hurt me. I’ve become a student of the game, so I try to get better and watch other point guards, try some of their moves if I like them.

You put Hakeem’s Dream Shake on the Cavs the other night.

I’ve never seen him play, though. I’ve never seen Hakeem play, never seen that move. I always do that move, and Kevin always tells me it’s the Dream Shake. To me, it’s the Rondo Shake.

*    *    *

LW: Was it hard fitting with Kevin, Paul, Ray and those guys?

RR: No, not really. I’m a little different. I’m never really in awe of people. I don’t get caught up in the moment when I’m playing with people. And if they didn’t want me there I’m sure I’d have been gone. They traded 7 players the year before, so I was there for a reason. And if I didn’t get the job done, I’d have been out of there. It’s a business, and I’m confident in what I do. They respect me, I respect them.

Did you look at it as a business last summer when Danny Ainge was critical about you to the media?

Yeah. Had to. I mean, it was frustrating, of course, hearing stuff like that. Especially after the season we had — I though we had a pretty good Playoffs last year. I thought things were going good, but it seemed like the complete opposite. And I started hearing stuff I hadn’t heard all season, coming out of nowhere. That’s when I learned that business is a part of it, but at the end of the day we got a deal done.

Was that the first time you had to deal with that, the politics? Or the “politricks,” as Rasheed would call it?

Yeah, I would say so. Especially at that level. And the media’s big in Boston. So I was doing an interview for Dunkin’ Donuts, and all the media is doing is asking me about the trade rumors and all this stuff. They just went straight to all that stuff.

They ask like one question about donuts and then ask about Danny Ainge?

Yeah, right, get right to the point. (Anchorman voice) “Well what we really want to ask you…”

Hey, I’ve done it too.

*    *    *

LW: Do you feel like you’re a role player?

RR: I’m a role player. What did Shaq say? I’m a high-level role player.

Eventually you have to become one of the superstars, right?

Eventually, but they can have it for now. It doesn’t bother me if I’m considered a superstar, as long as I continue to improve on the court and produce.

I don’t believe you that it doesn’t bother you.

It don’t. I feel like I’m the man, that’s how I put it. But if people don’t consider me that, I’m not bothered if you say I’m not a top five point guard. Every night I prove it, but that’s just how it is.

What about wanting to be seen as a superstar not just in the basketball sense, but as a personality, in Boston and around the world?

I don’t like that stuff. I’m fine with not doing that. I’m cool. I don’t have to be the man. I don’t have to be on every billboard in Boston, be the face of the Boston Celtics. If that’s not me, that’s not me. I’m fine. I’m low-key. I don’t really like having the spotlight on me, really. There’s people who want it. And then there’s people who do deserve it, but could care less. Me? I’m cool.

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  • http://www.slamonline.com Eboy

    RONDOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can’t wait to read the full piece….nice work Lang….I’d rank him in the top three, slightly ahead of Nash only because of his D. I like how he never watched ball either, that’s almost too crazy to comprehend.

  • http://slamonline.com Maurice Bobb

    Lang Whitaker does it again, ladies and germs. Can’t wait to read the whole piece.

  • http://www.stuffwhitepeoplelike.com Tarzan Cooper

    That lil move is not like the dream shake,

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    I am a die-hard Bulls and Derrick Rose fan, but Rondo has earned my grudging respect. I can’t hate, dude has a SICK game. That upside-down headband still looks stupid as hell, though.

  • chingy

    Rondo needs to trust his jumper a bit more. His shot is better than he thinks. He can’t pass up wide-open elbow J’s.

  • larrylegend

    @tarzan: yeah, there’s only one dreamshake!

  • http://slamonline.com JL

    just get a shot rondo. forget the mid range, just shoot 3s all day and get good at it. then u’ll be in the discussion for best PG.

  • http://www.stonesthrow.com Michael NZ

    F*ck threes, just get that mid range game tight. Love his game. And is there a player out there who you can here more on the court when watching on TV? Yelping and barking at everyone out there.

  • http://www.stonesthrow.com Michael NZ

    *hear

  • http://myspace.com/dontdiecindy Bryan

    hate boston but have loved Rondo since high school and i always knew he had this in him.

  • http://www.sonicbids.com doyouwantmore

    He’s got cajones. You have to give him that. And the fact that he has backed it up every step of the way kind of makes it impossible to dismiss him.

  • http://t2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:OzhW3M1GBSKkgM:http://fashionsensei.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/jackie-moon.jpg Jackie Moon

    Rondo is a different cat. Didn’t watch basketball growing up, yet is a mad baller? Just strange. But not necessarily in a bad way. Seems like a pretty thoughtful dude.

  • http://www.slamonline melvin ely

    I think not watching ball helped him in developing his unique game. What other PG in the league has his post moves and can rebound the ball like he does?

  • http://www.slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    Thanks for the comments. We also talked about his jump shot — it’s in the mag version.

  • http://www.nbaballhog.wordpress.com God in Basketball Shoes

    By the sound of it he was training while everyone else was watching. “I didn’t watch the NBA until maybe my freshman year of college, because I was trying to get there”. Lesson for all the kids out there – if you want to be a journo or something, watch ball all day. If you want to make the L, play ball all day.

  • http://www.nbaballhog.wordpress.com God in Basketball Shoes

    Looking forward to the rest of it Lang. Great questions and I like the fact that you owned up to asking the types of questions which he just admitted were annoying.

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    Really insightful stuff – I never knew he didn’t watch any ball growing up. Probably a big reason why he plays PG in a way no one does (has ever?).

  • http://slamonline.com tealish

    He is mistaken when he thinks he is the best.

  • http://thephotoriot.com davidR

    tealish, if he doesn’t believe himself to be the best, then who will do it for him?

  • BrettTA

    Charles had it right…D WIll, CP3, and D Rose/Nash…Rondo is top 10 tho

    Rose is the youngest of all the elite PG’s and clearly has the most upside, that dude is gonna be scary good.

  • Oli

    never having watched nba ball probably explains why he can’t shoot the 3: he didn’t know there is one when he was out practising! still pretty cool though, not having watched jordan or hakeem. weird, but cool…

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Great work, Lang.

  • maio

    Funny how SLAM writers always point out exactly what the guy was wearing.

  • hello

    Big respect for Rondo.

    He doesn’t need to give a s**t what people think. And nice to hear that he’s not an attention whore, he just needs to do the best he can for himself.

    He can’t please everybody.

  • mk

    nothing against d-will, cp3 or drose, but until they get chance to show their stuff deep into the nba playoffs it’s hard to say just how good they are. not saying they won’t step up in that situation. just saying that lots of guys don’t and rondo has proven that he does.

  • daynja!

    @melvin ely: so u would have been a better rebounder if u didn’´t watch bball growing up?

  • http://slamonline.com tealish

    davidR: The answer is no one — as it should be. Nothing wrong with saying “I’ll on my way to become the best”. But he thinks he’s the best PG today? You think that’s a legitimate claim? Seriously?

  • http://www.realcavsfans.com Anton

    Michael NZ “And is there a player out there who you can here more on the court when watching on TV? Yelping and barking at everyone out there.”
    Garnett would like to have a screaming match with you.

  • BostonBaller

    I refuse to read the article above until I get it in the mail. I’m not saying RR is the best PG in the L but he is def one of the top. His numbers are up there with all of them and don’t give me that he’s playing w/ 3 future HOFers either. I could combat that w/ other OPG numbers are higher b/c they get to take more shots or this or that. You either got it or you don’t. Every time he goes head to head with the best he more than holds his own or gets the best of them. Once he gets his J & FT’s on track the sky’s the limit. He has been hitting both more often during these playoffs. If a player is good just appreciate it and move on regardless of what team he plays for…this is entertainment folks

  • http://thephotoriot.com davidR

    i still have deron as the best pg in the league, but i wouldn’t disagree with anyone if they believed rondo to be the best. it’s a legit claim. he doesn’t have many negatives about his game, other than his lack of a consistent shot and that he plays with 3 HOFers. regardless, his unorthodox game still produces and he qb’s the team just fine. hard to argue against

  • Atom

    Can’t remember the last time I bought a Slam. But I’m definitely buying this one. Shakes is from a different planet.

  • http://www.pensionplanpuppets.com J

    Hey Lang can you run that article & the sidebar on Lebron by, I believe Khalid that was in the 3 Lebrons cover issue.

    This one: http://www.slamonline.com/online/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/3lebrons.jpg

    I think it’s a fitting time to re-run it.

  • http://www.stonesthrow.com Michael NZ

    Anton, you’re right BUT I can physically hear Rondo out there all game through the TV. I can see KG yapping, but can’t hear him. Ha, if that makes sense.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Deron Williams has been to the Western Conference Finals. He gave the Spurs 24 and 12 for the series. I think WCF counts as deep in the playoffs.

  • MVPballer

    Saying that Rondo is just a top 10 guard is outrageous. I’d say he’s top three, because of his defense and his passing.

  • Scottie Pimpin

    rondo has somethign you cant coach, big hands and long ass fingers.

  • T-Money

    Ya’ll crazy. CP3 still is the best pg in the game. Give him the big 3 and he might end up averaging 15 dimes a game. He led the league is assts with no real horses. His 3-point shot is wet now, the defense is on point. He’s the prototype, everything you want in a pg with zero flaws.

  • Frank F

    Love Rondo, hope he has a long and winning career. But he’s going to have to ease up on flinging his body around like he does (reminds me of the kids you see on skate boards and bmx bikes and the like – no fear) or he’s going to end up really hurt one of these days and that would be a shame.

  • http://www.davissportsdeli.com/wordpress/ Patrick

    Lang, hat tip to a terrific interviewer. Great questions and great vibe to the interview. Felt like I learned a lot about Rondo from his answers here.

  • Lz – Cphfinest3

    Great work Lang. In my book Rondo is No. 1.

  • C.B

    I still think D. Rose is better then him. But he’s in my top 5.

  • http://www.youtube.com/ The Promise

    Good story Lang, you do good on pretty much all of them. Rondo is in the mix for the best point in the L, CP3 and DW5 better stay hungry or he may jump ahead of them.

  • http://minusthebars.blogspot.com don

    Great, great interview. Timely, as well. I had no idea exactly what type of personality Rajon Rondo brought to the table. He is an impressive guy on the court and witty off the court.

    Hilarious @ The Rondo Shake.

  • ClydeSays

    Nice work Lang. Rondo is the best playmaker/defender at PG. Deron, Paul and Rose will always get more ink because of their scoring. None of them are half the defender Rondo is.

  • vtrobot

    yeah, top 10???? is that top 10 players in the league? top 10 PGs? ha ha ha ha ha. all of these arguments about who’s the “best” are pretty stupid. they are all better than the other top PGs at some things and worse at others. i’ll take the dude with the ring who steps his game up tremendously during the post-season.

  • http://slamonline.com Matt Lawyue

    CAN’T wait for this issue to drop..

  • Walkabout Will

    What’s a slam dunk?

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  • http://facebook.com tiffany tabares

    hi rondo, i am a huge fan of yours here in Philippines. You did a great job, more power to you! just keep up the good work. anyway i would just like to ask what course or degree you have taken.

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    To say that Brown is a bad guy compared to her is to manifest stupidity and moral confusion.

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