Sunday, September 19, 2010 Updated: September 21, 12:19 PM ET
Rajon Rondo wants to win in Boston
By Ric Bucher ESPN The Magazine
Celtics' Rajon Rondo poses in Alcatraz where he hosted the Red Bull King of the Rock tournament.
SAN FRANCISCO -- At this stage of his career, Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo says winning a FIBA gold medal just doesn't rank with winning another gold NBA trophy.
In fact, if it had been up to Rondo, he never would have tried out for the USA squad that ended a 16-year drought by defeating Turkey for the 2010 FIBA World Championship title. Rondo said several factors contributed to his subpar performance with the squad -- being worn out from the Celtics' narrow Finals loss to the Lakers, his mind on making up for it this season; missing his two-year old daughter; mourning the death of an uncle; and being disenchanted with European cuisine -- ultimately leading him to withdraw from the team.
Skeptics will say that's a convenient cover for realizing he might not make the 12-man roster after being benched in a warm-up contest against Spain. But there's no question that Rondo has long been ambivalent about playing for Team USA, turning down previous invitations to try out and having a last-minute change of heart this summer. Celtics president Danny Ainge said earlier this summer that he was surprised by Rondo's decision to join the team's Las Vegas training camp.
"I just never got the sense he was committed to it the way some of those other guys were," Ainge said.
His agent, Bill Duffy, insists that it was his idea that Rondo compete.
"Physically, emotionally, he wasn't ready for it," Duffy said. "I feel bad because I was really pushing him to do it because of the experience and his stature."
Rondo and Duffy spoke on a 20-minute boat ride Saturday night to Alcatraz, where Rondo hosted the Red Bull King of the Rock tourney, a 64-man 1-on-1 competition, a first of its kind on the former island prison in San Francisco Bay. Red Bull spent more than six years trying to secure permission for the event from the National Parks Service, which rarely makes "The Rock," as Alcatraz is known, available for private events.
Isaiah "Clutch" Bowman, 25, from Inglewood, won the first-place prize of $10,000. A 30-minute telecast of the event will be shown next month on several West Coast networks, including Fox Sports Net and Comcast Sports Bay Area. Surrounded by high, crumbling concrete walls, floodlights casting eerie shadows across the old prison yard and gusts of fog swirling around the contestants and invitation-only fans, the competition was as much about perseverance as it was pure talent.
"I made history on The Rock!" Bowman shouted, hoisting his trophy shortly after 11 p.m.
Rondo, who remained on the island several hours afterward to shoot promotional material that Red Bull hopes will help secure a sequel event, said his mind already was on the prospect of incorporating a fourth Hall of Famer -- Shaquille O'Neal -- with the Celtics' three others -- Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett -- when he was with Team USA.
"It was great to practice every day against the best young talent in the league, a veteran like Chauncey Billups and play for a Hall of Fame coach [Mike Krzyzewski]," Rondo said. "But some of these guys hadn't played since April. Lamar [Odom] and I had just got out of Game 7. And next season is right around the corner. I feel like I had to take advantage of the opportunity I have right now to win another championship. It's not often you get to play with four Hall of Famers. Another couple of years and I won't have that."
Odom, the Lakers' sixth man, was the only player on Team USA to play beyond the first round of the playoffs. Not playing in the warm-up game did not prompt his decision, Rondo said, pointing out that he still flew with the team to Greece and took part in two more practice sessions before notifying the team he was pulling out. He did so, he added, only after talking to Ainge, Celtics coach Doc Rivers, his former high school coach and long-time mentor Doug Bibby and Duffy.
"I went to Greece hoping things would get better," he said.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine.