Commentary

Rondo reminds us he's Rondo

Birthdaygate stirs up old questions, but don't expect answers any time soon

Updated: February 28, 2014, 10:45 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

If Birthdaygate has reminded us of anything, it's that Rajon Rondo is an extremely polarizing figure. Fans seem to either love him or hate him, and there appears to be very little middle ground.

So Rondo apologists and Rondo haters spent much of Thursday shouting at each other over the interwebs and airwaves amid the fallout from Rondo's decision to skip the team's trip to Sacramento, Calif., and celebrate his birthday in Los Angeles last weekend.

We've already told you how we feel about this. The CliffsNotes version: It didn't look good, Rondo probably should have just offered a simple public apology noting that he didn't intend to upset his teammates or the organization with his decision, and the narrative would have instantly shifted to "Hey, this kid is growing up!" Instead, Rondo remained defiant after Wednesday's game and his critics spent another day treating him like a piñata.

It's funny how often I hear it, from friends to strangers to people in the Celtics' organization: What do you think of Rondo?

[+] EnlargeRajon Rondo
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaSome may criticize his methods, but Rondo wouldn't be Rondo if he didn't have his quirks.

The question almost never has anything to do with basketball. Everyone wants to know what those of us who are around Rondo glean from those interactions.

My answer is pretty standard: He could be a little quicker after games, but I actually enjoy his quirkiness.

You see, Rondo wouldn't be Rondo if he didn't make the media wait an hour for five minutes of his time after games. He wouldn't be Rondo if he didn't offer single-word answers to questions that don't require anything more. He wouldn't be Rondo if he wasn't defiant about everything.

The Rondo experience is remarkably similar after games. Sometime after 11 p.m. (or a little more than an hour after the game's typical completion), when the rest of the locker room has emptied and employees are hanging fully laundered uniforms back in locker stalls, Rondo will exit the trainer's room and reporters will spring to attention. It's usually just a false start. Rondo is headed to the shower area to double check that he looks dapper in his letterman jacket and colorful chinos (throwing on some hipster glasses if he wants to spoil us) before re-emerging at the front of the team's locker room where deadline-pressed reporters click on their recorders and crowd closer to hear his soft-spoken musings.

Outside the doorway, Celtics director of team security Phil Lynch waits with Rondo's bags, ready for the short dash to elevators that lead to the player parking lot below. Rondo takes his position, playfully squints his eyes and throws his hands up for shade when the TV cameras click on their bright lights.

The questions start and Rondo greets most close-ended questions with a simple "yes" or "no," making reporters dip into their "hows" and "whys" to extract a more detailed response (and even that doesn't always work). Some find it frustrating, but it's also a bit entertaining. If you want to extract something profound from Rondo in the postgame scrum, it's probably going to take a few questions and you have to think as quick as him with your follow-ups.

Rondo is leery of those media situations because, fair or not, we tend to jump on his most buzz-worthy ruminations. Wednesday night is a good example. Rondo fielded 16 questions after Boston's win over the Hawks and offered nearly 700 words of response.

But it was the 35 words he said with a touch of defiance on Birthdaygate that got replayed over and over. Hey, that's the nature of the beast. Much like enduring trade rumors, Rondo knows by now how it goes in the media.

Maybe all of us should know by now that the Rondo we see in those brief postgame glimpses and the Rondo whom teammates gush about are two different people. To Rondo, the media is an obligation; his teammates are a necessity.

Which is why Rondo's decision to stay in Los Angeles, which on the surface seems a bit self-serving, seems so out of character. Rondo endured all those early-season road trips as he navigated his rehab from ACL surgery and his dedication to his teammates was a big reason the Celtics bestowed the title of captain upon him during his return to game action last month.

Along the way, Rondo earned the league's community service award, earned rave reviews from new coach Brad Stevens, and seemed to quietly embrace a leadership role in his first season without the safety net of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce beneath him.

Rondo supporters suggest Birthdaygate is a nonstory. The fact that Stevens admitted he grappled with Rondo's decision and that Danny Ainge plans to chat with Rondo next week suggests it's worth our attention. It's Rondo's polarity that has caused the story to take on a life of its own.

Ultimately, this will be a learning experience -- for Rondo the first-year leader, for Stevens the first-year coach, and for all the young players on this transitioning Boston team. If the Celtics were not lottery-bound, maybe the focus would be on the court rather than who wasn't on the bench.

But we revert to that notion that the Rondo we see in those brief media obligations is very different from the Rondo his teammates know. Veteran Gerald Wallace downplayed Rondo's absence Saturday because he wasn't scheduled to play in the game and suggested it wasn't a problem to him. If it was a problem to anyone on the team, it's possible that Rondo has talked with him behind closed doors and moved forward.

Stevens has often noted that he's a no-elephants-in-the-room kinda guy. He met with Rondo on Monday in Utah and started the process of working through what we presume was a miscommunication. If Stevens was upset about Rondo's decision, he could have benched him for the start of that game, but Stevens stressed Wednesday that he was moving forward from the topic, adhering to his typical process-oriented plan of focusing on what's next.

Soon, the rest of us will do the same. Birthdaygate will be just another chapter in the entertaining history of Rondo. And we'll all await the next polarizing action from Boston's talented point guard, which hopefully happens on the court rather than off.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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