Rondo Profile in Sports Illustrated

From the February 25th issue of SI: Sports Illustrated‘s Lee Jenkins has a great profile of Rajon Rondo.

Here’s the opening:

The toughest man pound-for-pound in the NBA is working on his third Shirley Temple, extra grenadine, as he recovers from the Connect Four incident. Before he landed in Boston, became the Celtics’ starting point guard, won a championship, was voted to the All-Star Game, suffered a torn ACL and watched his team play its best basketball of the season without him, Rajon Rondo grew up in a development near downtown Louisville called College Court. His mother allowed him to roam the neighborhood during the day, but she demanded he be home by the time the streetlights flickered on at dusk. Rondo would set up a Connect Four grid on the front porch and play deep into the night, welcoming friends and family members to his stoop, and then dispatching them all. “He beat everybody,” says his mom, Amber Rondo. The boy possessed an unearthly ability to see the entire board and think three moves ahead.

When the Celtics drafted Rondo in 2006, they encouraged their first-round pick to ingratiate himself in his new hometown through public appearances and community events. “But I’m not a great people person,” Rondo says. In a sports world filled with phonies, sons of the street who sand their jagged edges for mass consumption, Rondo is as real as a rusted rim. He is the ultimate showman, hurling lobs 50 feet in the air during warmups and fielding tip-offs with his forehead, yet he couldn’t give a whit about showmanship. Rondo scoffs at the stars who list themselves as game-time decisions with ankle tweaks—”They just want an excuse if they don’t play well”—and fumes at the ones who hug opponents as if they’re at a Junior League luncheon. “I’m not trying to make friends,” he says. “We can talk in the summer.” Opposing point guards, weary of Rondo’s jawing and jostling, wonder if he is picking a fight with them or simply doesn’t like them. “With Rajon,” says Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett, “there ain’t no f—— around.”

The Celtics didn’t want to change Rondo when he arrived, but they didn’t want to hide him either. So at charity functions he perched behind a folding table where he could avoid the back-slapping, baby-hugging and other standard forms of celebrity fakery. He just played Connect Four, against anybody who dared, usually two grids at a time and sometimes three. “This has been going on for six years,” Matt Meyersohn, the Celtics’ director of community relations, said on Dec. 22 during an event at the Blue Hill Boys & Girls Club in Dorchester, Mass. “He’s played hundreds of Connect Four games, maybe a thousand. And he’s never lost.”

Later that day Rondo sat behind a table and three grids. Across from him were more than 100 children he had showered with bikes, Razor scooters and iPod Touches that he bought at Target and distributed from the back of a U-Haul. “I thought he might let us win,” said a 12-year-old named Olisa. “But he was so serious.” Rondo wore the requisite Santa hat with jolly red shoes, but through 22 consecutive victories he barely uttered a word or cracked a smile. He held each disk aloft for a solid 10 seconds before depositing it in his chosen column. He stared the kids down as if they were Knicks.

Olisa was the last challenger. He stared back at Rondo through wire-rimmed glasses. He clenched teeth covered with braces. He initiated what he called a trap, forcing Rondo to the right side of the grid, putting him on the defensive. When Olisa dropped the winning disk, Celtics officials started to shout. Meyersohn grabbed the microphone. “This has never happened!” he bellowed. Olisa rushed around the table to take a picture with the shell-shocked champion, who tried to curl up a corner of his mouth for the camera but instead bowed his head, resulting in a snapshot of his scalp.

Here’s a link to the complete article:


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