Rondo's debut makes for must-see TV
April, 1, 2014
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com
CSN ScreenshotRajon Rondo works color commentary alongside CSN's Mike Gorman.It says something about the 2013-14 season that, on the night the Boston Celtics were formally eliminated from playoff contention, it was Rajon Rondo's debut as color commentator that stole the show.
To be fair, the Celtics' postseason fate has been sealed since around the final days of June, when the team agreed to the blockbuster trade with the Brooklyn Nets that overhauled their roster and ushered in this transition season. It was simply a dilapidated Eastern Conference that allowed Boston to hang around, mathematically, until the final day of March.
Rondo is such a polarizing presence that his appearance on Monday's broadcast generated plenty of buzz and made it must-see TV, leaving the DVR to swoop up the "How I Met Your Mother" series finale that aired at the same time. Rondo was anything but legen -- wait for it -- dary, but with All-Star play-by-play man Mike Gorman playing TV point guard, Rondo found his groove in the second quarter and added intrigue to what would be Boston's 51st loss of the season.
Rondo gutted through the pregame standup (the toughest part of the broadcast, he'd later admit) and leaned on Gorman's cues while tip-toeing through the first quarter. But he was much more natural in the second frame, breaking down plays and offering insight on personnel from both teams. Rondo, resting on the second night of a back-to-back, spent the second half of the game on the Boston bench in coach mode while Celtics legend Cedric Maxwell finished out the broadcast.
Still wearing his light gray suit, but with his tie generously loosened following Boston's 94-80 loss at the United Center, Rondo assessed his TV debut by telling reporters in Chicago, "Mike made it easy for me. Obviously, there's room for improvement. But, for the first time out, I think I did a pretty good job."
Rondo shined in the second quarter while breaking down one of Boston's offensive sets, detailing the weaving nature of the play and how coach Brad Stevens anticipated how Chicago would "tag on the cut" and leave a weakside shooter open. Rondo offered high praise for the likes of Joakim Noah ("He pretty much fills up the stat sheet; he reminds me a little bit of myself") and even Kirk Hinrich (the two had a pretty memorable run-in during the 2009 playoffs, but Rondo said he "love[s] playing against him.")
Rondo was guarded at times, likely told by Boston brass to avoid saying too much, and his dry wit didn't shine through as much as it could have. But he kept you glued to the broadcast, even as the Celtics would let the game slip away in the final quarter en route to their fifth straight loss and 10th defeat in 11 tries.
After the game, Rondo relayed how he got a long text message (and follow-up phone call) from former teammate (and former broadcast standout) Brian Scalabrine. He said he also took advice from Maxwell while preparing for his debut. Once he got past the pregame standup, Rondo said, "it was just like talking, sitting in your living room, talking to a friend of yours, dissecting the game."
Gorman, who has seamlessly handled the carousel of guest hosts utilized on the road this season, including ESPN Boston's Jackie MacMullan and Grantland's Bill Simmons, stole the show on Monday while reminding us again that he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer at what he does. Sensing Rondo's reluctance early on, Gorman teed up topics for Rondo throughout the first quarter, which helped the pair eventually become more conversational in the second frame.
"He’s probably the best at what he does," Rondo said of Gorman. "All the things that you don’t see on camera that he’s doing, he’s doing about 90 things in one minute behind the scenes."
Rondo was asked if he had realized how much work and preparation went into a broadcast.
"I didn't realize it, but Mike is so good at it, he makes it look easy and it’s not," Rondo said.
Reflecting on the experience, Rondo added: "It’s just something I wanted to do. I did it for the fans, I did it for my team, it’s something different; not a lot of guys do it currently while playing. I thought it would be OK to give it a shot. Like I said, I wasn’t playing the back-to-back, and I was traveling with the team, so why not?"
There are only eight games left in the season, but two more back-to-backs loom. Would Rondo take another crack at broadcasting?
"I’ll have to talk to my lawyers, my agent, my coaching staff, my general manager -- see how it goes from there," Rondo said. Later he added, "It's a possibility. If the broadcast wants me back on, then we’ll see."
[Bonus links:: CSN's Best of Rondo video | WEEI's Rondo highlights]