Nine is the loneliest number

On Rajon Rondo and his future as the leader of the band.


image: Basketball Schedule via flickr.

At its greatest heights, basketball is a game marked by the aesthetic excellence of the athletically gifted, whereupon the most incredible leave their individual imprint in ways that cannot be qualified or codified, awesomely challenging not only the laws of physics but the very notion of the game itself. The same way Jimi Hendrix delivered his definitive version of The Star Spangled Banner to hordes of dazed heads at Woodstock, the same way Miles Davis abandoned jazz for the meditative funk of Agharta and Pangea, so too does Rajon Rondo disregard the modern tradition of the point guard and continue to redefine the possible far out on his own trajectory.

In Celtics lore, one would have to reach back to Bob Cousy to find similar descriptors of pointguard as conductor par excellence, but where Cooz was a safety blanket to fans of the era—a white man controlling a game (watched by white men) that was quickly becoming the province of comparatively inscrutable black powerhouses like Russell, Chamberlain, and Baylor—Rondo is relegated to half a dinner set by sports men and women alike.

Those given to such cutlerian affectations contend that the modern NBA point must have a worthy enough three point shot that he demands attention outside the paint and possess enough free throw aptitude to justify his own threat to earn points when he drives to the hoop. As much as advanced statistics have begun to take hold in discussions among fans, it seems scoring still remains our first option when evaluating the ability of a team's standout hoopsman to impose his will so thoroughly on the court that when the buzzer sounds there remains no doubt among any spectator, participant, or prospective heckler that the player in question gave his all to win.

Reading, hearing, and digesting these statements brings to mind nothing more than those that screamed "Judas!" at Dylan when he went electric, or bemoaned the synthesizer-y explorations of Pink Floyd as machines-playing-the-music. For someone with game that hearkens as throwback as equally as it points forward to a brave new world, Rajon Rondo occupies a strange place in a sport that many use as respite from the realities of the world. He is the focal point of the offense even when he doesn't emerge as the scoring leader, and even in a world where all box scores can be compared, many of his assists exist on a different level from other passes that merely lead to buckets.

Oft-criticized for not Playing The Game The Right Way™ by eschewing the easy pass for one of virtuoso difficulty, the beauty of Rondo's game lies in the fact that, in his hands, the ball is treated to a psychedelic voyage through infinite possibilities, a realm where normal, rote, and routine are left panting behind the wild colors and pulsing rhythms of the spectacular, rejoining the universe at an intersection between the sublime and the absurd that only Manu Ginobili frequents with half as much regularity. When it results in success, fans are reminded and reassured of the reasons to watch the game live in the first place—for if it was truly only about winning, it would be much easier to check the box scores the morning after in between the first cup of coffee and the daily commute. Regardless of how much it reeks of marketing-speak, the NBA is where amazing happens, and amazing seems to follow Rondo like a swarm of tweens on the hunt for their newest pop idol.

With the banners, the history, and all the assorted championship memories that undercut all discourse on the most successful franchise in the NBA, the expectation of victory has had a long hold on the fans of the Boston Celtics. Players found incapable, through skillset or through motive, of bringing home the W are kissed kindly and shown the door—there are no fours in the Association, and shimmying by Celtics players is the exclusive right of the be-ringed. What appears at first to be a curious double standard for a group so vocal about the virtues of loyalty is instead revealed to be a more base desire—a loyalty to Larry O'Brien. Allies become assets. In this light, commonly reserved for both real and would-be general managers and particularly heightened at the end of a prematurely shortened postseason campaign, Rajon Rondo can be seen by squinted eye as Joyce's Stephen Daedalus, trying to escape the nightmare that is history. The same history, it must be acknowledged, that just laid claim to fellow green luminaries Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

It bears noting, then, that even with the dearth of talent at the point guard position, where tastes of a more regular stripe can be satisfied by recent reincarnations—recasting Chris Paul as Isiah Thomas through his mastery of the pick and roll, or hearing the echoes of madcap Iversonian athleticism in Derrick Rose's sojourns to the basket—Rondo's game has taken a cosmic, heady journey to an even earlier time in hoops history and returned as Ur-Cousy, making impossible passes to (sometimes unsuspecting) teammates, envisioning angles that confound mathematics and displaying a basketball mind that is at times so other and so alien that it confounds the IQ, hoops or otherwise. Fans dissecting his game as lacking in the current mold are akin to concert-goers seeing Miles circa 1975 and becoming distraught that he didn't play any cuts from Kind of Blue.

Point being, as free agency descends upon the league and trade season begin anew, if the Celtics do move The Clinic to another team in their efforts to rebuild and the fans are left wishing for Wiggins, we can only hope that his game continues to spin wild on its own orbital axis for many years to come, ideally to be rediscovered and celebrated more thoroughly by NBA archivists and historians of the future.

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