Thursday, January 28, 2010
Excitement for Rondo's first All-Star appearance
By Chris Forsberg
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Celtics guard Rajon Rondo stood up from watching film inside the visitors' locker room at Amway Arena and walked over to Paul Pierce's locker stall so that the two players -- both named All-Star reserves Thursday based on coaches voting -- could discuss the honor with the assembled media.
Once the camera lights came on, Pierce tried to quietly slip away and let Rondo have the spotlight. The fourth-year guard reeled the captain back in saying, "C'mon, man. Ubuntu."
The brief exchange revealed a lot about the two players and how they view the honor. Pierce, who will make his eighth All-Star appearance, wanted to give Rondo his moment in the sun. Rondo, in turn, wanted to thank Pierce for what he's meant in helping him get to this point.
"I always thought I was an [All-Star-caliber] guard, but for the coaches to think so, it's an honor," said Rondo. "I try to play with that spirit, that tenacity each night. But having three future Hall of Famers in front of me, showing me how to do it, helped out a lot."
There was genuine excitement in the locker room for Rondo. While his inclusion in this year's game seemed like a foregone conclusion, Rondo swears he didn't know until he arrived at the arena and was informed of the news by Celtics media relations czar Jeff Twiss.
Rondo said he'll lean on Pierce and Kevin Garnett, voted an Eastern Conference starter by fans, when he treks to Texas for the All-Star festivities, capped by the game on Feb. 14 at Cowboys Stadium.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who might end up in Dallas as coach of the Eastern Conference if Boston finishes the first half with the second-best record in the conference, beamed like a proud father for Rondo.
"I'm very happy for Rajon, it's just great for him," said Rivers. "Obviously for Paul and Kevin, it's old hat for them. For Rajon, it's phenomenal. He's put in the time, he's been great. If you think about the summer, flying up to Atlanta on the weekend to meet with a shooting coach. Or coming down to Orlando to coach in the summer league, just to learn about leadership and what coaches go through coaching players. He's done a lot of the little things to help become a better player and he's been rewarded by making the All-Star Game."
Rondo said the All-Star nod won't change him as a player; he expressed a similar sentiment after signing a five-year, $55-million contract extension earlier this season.
"It'll change the way I play, I'll probably shoot a lot today, take more shots, maybe I'll start averaging 16-17 shots per game," Rondo joked with a sly smile.
"I'm definitely [still hungry]. I won't settle. I'm sure people thought I'd settle after signing the contract. I'm going to keep trying to get better. It doesn't matter how many All-Star appearances or [contracts]."
As for Pierce, he took great pride in being named a reserve by the coaches yet again. Pierce has never been voted a starter and said the fact that the honor comes from the coaches means even more to him.
"When I really look at it, the way I've made the All-Star Game is like my whole career -- I know I've earned it," said Pierce. "I've never been voted, but when I get picked by the coaches, I know I've earned it. They must think highly of me, so it does [mean more]."
Said Rivers: "It's funny, we were talking about that earlier. This is Paul's eighth time and he's never been voted by the fans. It tells you the type of game he has. It's so easy to take it for granted. He's probably been on the ESPN Top 10 plays once in his career; except for game-winning shots, that's it. He just gets the job done and coaches notice that."
Rondo's selection allowed Pierce to reflect on his first All-Star selection in 2002.
"It was exciting," said Pierce. "I went out, enjoyed the parties and my peers. It was an exciting time for me. I had a chance to play with Michael Jordan, a guy who I really looked up to -- I had his posters on my wall in high school. Sitting there on the bench, a lot of the veterans were laughing. They thought my first shot would be an airball. It wasn't quite that, but it did totally miss the rim."