Basketball is what we do. And not to sound cocky, but we’re pretty good at it. Here’s just another example: a Rajon Rondo feature that was published last summer in SLAM 132, way before everyone was riding Rondo’s jock.—Ed.

SLAM 132 Feature: Rajon Rondo

by Konate A. Primus

Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo. Amazing young players. The future of the NBA at the point guard position. The innovators of tomorrow.

What separates Rajon Rondo from the other three, beside the fact that he is the only one with a ring (ironic, isn’t it?), is the abundance of abhorrence and disbelief he’s dealt with, year in and year out, during his short career. In his rookie campaign it was, “Why did Boston pick Rondo? He’s too skinny and not a pure point guard.” That year the Celts won 17 games. Rondo’s second year, they doubted his ability to make decisions and knock down jumpers. That year they won 66 games and a historic championship with Rajon as the starting PG. Third year, they snubbed him for a more than deserving Most Improved Player award and looked right past him for the All-Star Game. If you haven’t been paying attention to Rondo, you probably think I’m just talking crazy, but his numbers speak for themselves. And last year, those numbers said 11.9 ppg, 8.2 apg, 5.2 rpg and 1.9 spg (digits which he upped to HOF-caliber numbers over the Celtics’ 14-game Playoff run: 16.9, 9.8, 9.7 and 2.5).

I believe there must be some language in our widespread world where the word “Rondo” is synonymous for “forgotten, little, humble giant.” Because there is honestly no other way to describe the 6-1, 171-pound, long-limbed point guard who’s been doubted and slighted time and time again. Slighted because he’s not a big marketing tool or because he’s not the flashiest on the court, or simply snubbed for reasons Rondo and his fans haven’t even been able to figure out yet.

In actuality, Rondo really couldn’t care less about the NBA and the media overlooking his steady improvement as a PG and as a budding NBA star. Speaking on the phone recently, Rondo digests the way he’s covered, takes a deep breath and explains that while publicity is cool, image isn’t what matters on the court.

“I definitely think I’m one of the best point guards in the League, and that’s how I play the game,” Rondo says. “I think my coaches and teammates believe in me. As far as other cats getting publicity, it doesn’t matter to me. They deserve the notoriety; CP puts up crazy numbers and Deron Williams as well. For me, all I want is a ring, and I got one down and we have another chance this season to try and get another one.”

During the Celts’ championship run in ’07-08, RR was bombarded with so much doubt he started to momentarily believe what people were saying. But he never let it destroy his game. Rondo says it was his backcourt partner in crime, Ray Allen, who always had Rajon’s back.

“I talked to Ray a lot his first season in Boston, and he helped me get through a few of my troubles,” says Rondo. “I really don’t listen to the critics, and I’ve always had a lot of confidence in my play. So whether they doubted me or not, I’m still gonna do what I do best.”

Don’t get it twisted: Rondo has an All-Star supporting cast for his team, from coaches to players. Could the 23-year-old out of Kentucky have made the progress he has if a “player’s” coach didn’t coach him? Would Rondo be the same player if KG and Ray hadn’t joined the Celtics and teamed with P-Double to teach him certain things?

In fact, if it weren’t for Kevin’s injury last season, Rondo would not have felt the need to become the great rebounding point guard he is now, but in Garnett’s absence he knew he had to crash boards to fill a void. You can make the argument that he wouldn’t be as successful on another team, but would’ves, could’ves and should’ves are not what we judge players on. We judge players on their current situation and the numbers they put up. Yes, Rondo has three likely Hall of Famers with him, but they didn’t get a ring without Rondo. Shaq couldn’t win without Kobe or Wade. Chauncey Billups wasn’t recognized as a great point guard until he won his championship with an “All-Star supporting cast” in Detroit. We get too caught up in who has the most highlights or who has the best endorsement deals, and we forget why we play or watch this sport. No one is going to win you a ring by themselves, as we saw with LeBron and company, or the years previous with Kobe and the no show Lake Show. Individual efforts might get you into the Playoffs, it might win you a few games in the series, but your chances of a ring are slim to none. But yet and still, the dude playing the most important position on the floor for the Celtics is more or less forgotten.

Saying Rondo is just an OK point guard isn’t OK. His court vision is among the best in the League and his ability to cut and get to the basket make him among the toughest to defend in the NBA. Just ask Derrick Rose or Rafer Alston, both of whom Rajon gave insurmountable trouble during the Playoffs, on several occasions dropping triple-doubles on steroids. As the numbers shown earlier prove, whether it’s rebounding, passing, scoring or steals, Rondo can put stats on the board for you.

“In the Playoffs, it’s a lot harder to get triple-doubles because the intensity is up and you’re going against the same person possibly seven times. I never plan when I have triple-doubles, it’s just one of those things where I have to feel it. Once I get my rebounding started, I know it’s going to be a good night. Points are the last thing I need to worry about. I’m know I’m going to get a feel, knock down a few shots, make a couple of layups and I’ll have 10 points easy, but I have All-Stars in addition to my other teammates who can score so I don’t worry about that.” Words from a player who understands his role on the team and as point guard in general.

What GM wouldn’t want Rondo playing for his team? That’s a question that was floating around the NBA this off-season, when a Celtics junior executive supposedly made a trade offer that included Rondo as the centerpiece of a deal to Detroit for Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey. With humility oozing from his pores, Rondo addresses the situation as a positive: “Being traded isn’t the most horrible thing. Ray’s been traded three times, Kevin, a 12-time All-Star, got traded to us and we ended up wining. So you could either take it as someone doesn’t want me, or you could look at it like someone wants me. I choose to look at it like someone wants me. As long as I have a job that lets me support my family and play ball, I’m thankful for that,” Rondo says.

Nicely put. But the more the situation really sinks in, the more Rondo’s tone starts to waver: “It is like a slap in the face though, because I’ve been with Boston for a little while now but…this is the business.”

Like it or not, Rondo is the future of the Celtics, a young cat constantly growing and becoming a long-limbed, Scottie Pippen-esque player from the point guard position. Surrounded by the League’s best veterans (Allen, Pierce, Garnett, Rasheed Wallace and a coach who was more than a decent player himself), there is no button for failure or an option for mediocrity. Roll your Rs, stretch your Os and give the man his credit where its due, for he shall be a star for the next couple of years.

Even if you keep saying, “That guy came out of nowhere.”