One gets the feeling Rajon Rondo uses controversy like most use caffeine. He hears trade rumors and becomes a triple-double machine. Craig Sager asks him an innocent question about how the Celtics can handle rest and Rondo responds as if Sager just called his daughter ugly. Doris Burke asks him about Boston’s unexpected scoring binge and Rondo uses it as an excuse to call the Miami Heat crybabies. He might not always be so surly but in competition Rondo has an edge lined with spikes. If no controversy exists, he damn well might create one.
Rondo doesn’t care. He doesn’t care if you think he’s mean or if the Miami Heat think he’s an asshole or if Burke didn’t get the exact answer she was looking for. He doesn’t care if his comments get back to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. He even wants them to get back to those guys. He is unruffled by time and score, unworried by opponents and completely comfortable with his own abilities. He can turn from uber-agressive to semi-passive to “tear-drop floater for the Game 4 win” in a moment’s notice. But he does care. He cares a lot. He cares about winning. And that’s why he builds controversy in places where it doesn’t exist.
When Michael Jordan was inducted to the Hall of Fame, his speech included several anecdotes about how his competitive spirit operates. He spoke about Leroy Smith, the player who made the varsity team over Jordan in his sophomore year of high school. He spoke of hearing about North Carolina teammate Buzz Peterson being high school Player of the Year. “Well, he ain’t never played against me,” Jordan thought. “Buzz became a dot on my board.” Jordan sought reasons to drive him, even if they included battling a teammate for headlines and supremacy. The greatest basketball player of all time didn’t thrive when the waters were clear and the sun was shining. He preferred the wind swirling, the waves crashing and rain drops pounding on his skull. And if that meant he occasionally had to strap on a head dress and partake in a rain dance, Jordan gladly climbed to the heavens with his paint brush and added storm clouds to the night sky.
Rondo likewise doesn’t like when it’s 75 degrees and the world is outside enjoying a beautiful day. He wants to brood and seethe and maybe even hate. He wants his opponents to loathe him so he can feed off their disdain. He wants to live in a world of constant challenges, so he paints a bulls-eye on his own chest for two of the world’s best basketball players to target.
With the Celtics ahead 93-91 on Miami’s final possession, needing one final stop to secure a Game 4 victory, Rondo — a relatively slender 6-foot-1 point guard — asked to defend Wade. “We knew they were going to Wade. I wanted to check him,” he told Doris Burke in a postgame interview. The decision to have Rondo guard Wade made little conventional sense considering that James had already fouled out and Boston had other defenders on the court, including Marquis Daniels and Mickael Pietrus, with more length and strength to bother Wade.
The Heat eventually ran a pick and pop which forced the Celtics to switch Daniels onto Wade, and Wade missed a good look as time expired. But Doc Rivers was comfortable sticking Rondo on Wade with the game, the series and the season in the balance. Rondo is flawed and he’s limited in certain fashions. But when the stakes are highest, he has his coach’s ultimate faith.