MICHAEL WILBON AND, “RONDO TO THE HALL OF FAME.” WHAT???
The other day (it was Thursday 4/27/17) Michael Wilbon, no more or less a sports junkie than I and an accomplished journalist as well as co-host of ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption, made a remark which has been stuck in my craw ever since.
He and his compadre Tony Kornheiser were dissecting the Boston Celtics-Chicago Bulls NBA First Round Playoff Series (ultimately won by the Celtics 4–2) and the impact Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo — or more specifically his absence — would have on the series’ outcome.
Rondo, a former Celtic, played in the first two games of the matchup — both Chicago wins — but missed the remaining four with a fractured right thumb and a wrist injury.
In fact in Game 2, a 111–97 Bulls road victory, he singlehandedly dismantled the C’s with his stellar performance — 11 points; 14 assists; 9 rebounds; 5 steals; and 32 Bulls points scored off Rondo assists, the most points off assists by any Bulls player in franchise postseason history.
Further, he proclaimed audibly to both his teammates on the floor and those on the bench — when the game was not yet over — that Boston had given up.
Smack of this sort does not go over well with any kind of competitive opponent. In any sport. At any time. Ever.
But that’s Rondo, as Kevin Garnett may have said a time or two in language a bit saltier.
Rajon Rondo was a kid — a baby — in every sense of the words when he said goodbye to the University of Kentucky after two collegiate campaigns.
He was a twenty-year-old late-first round pick drafted by the Phoenix Suns 21st. overall. The first point guard chosen, he was subsequently traded to the Celtics with whom he signed an NBA contract on July 4, 2006.
As a rookie he worked his way up and in. His talent was undeniable, eye-popping really. But he shared time with Sebastian Telfair and Delonte West and there were only so many minutes to go around in a crowded backcourt, even during a woeful 24–58 season.
Painfully sparing as his time on the floor was, Rondo became an All-Rookie Second Team selection and his 128 steals thrust him into the league’s top ten in that category.
Rajon Rondo’s way was paved and dusted with gold when both Telfair and West were traded in the offseason prior to 2007-’08.
He started every game and led the team in assists and steals, finishing in the top five in voting for the NBA’s Most Improved Player. The Celtics dispatched the Hawks, Cavaliers and Pistons in the playoffs and then the Lakers in the 2008 Finals with Rondo at the controls.
The “Big Three” of Paul Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen — along with executive Danny Ainge who put it all together — were more highly publicized but Rondo was the engine powering the locomotive.
And as he continued to assume the role of train conductor and dramatically expand it, neither he nor his wide range of hardcourt skills were any longer a secret.
During the 2009 NBA Playoffs, Rondo averaged a near triple-double (16.9 points; 9.7 rebounds; 9.8 assists) and in his prime was considered to be one of the league’s premier triple-double threats.
Before the startling and stunning emergences of Russell Westbrook and James Harden, he ranked as high as 12th. in NBA annals in career regular season triple-doubles (28) and fourth in career playoff triple-doubles (10).
Pretty good for a guy who could slash but could not shoot.
Rajon Rondo has been an NBA Champion; a 4-time NBA All-Star; a 4-time NBA First or Second Team All-Defensive selection; and the proud holder of a trove of Boston Celtics franchise records including: Most Assists in a Single Season-794 (2009-’10); Most Steals in a Single Season-189 (2009-’10); Most Assists in a Playoff Game-20 (2010-’11); and Most Assists Per Game — Season-11.7 (2011-’12).
He owns many NBA regular season and postseason records for steals, assists and triple-doubles. He has had a marvelous career.
But HOF-worthy Michael?
The more carefully I think, learn and listen…maybe not quite as an outrageous, misplaced and love-of-all-things-Chicago-infused assertion as it felt to me then, but…
Is Rondo a better candidate than Jason Kidd? Or Kevin Johnson? Mark Price? Penny Hardaway? Lou Hudson? Mo Cheeks? Warren (Armstrong) Jabali? Tim Hardaway? Norm Van Lier?
Shooting/Swing guards Michael Cooper, Sidney Moncrief, JoJo White, or Glen Rice?
The immortal Max Zaslofsky?
How about Charlie Scott or Paul Westphal, once traded for one another?
Mack Calvin even?
What of ABA stalwarts Louie Dampier — sorry Louie you finally and belatedly made it in 2015 — or Darel Carrier?
(My apologies again, but you didn’t Darel).
Kornheiser gave Wilbon every opportunity to (somewhat) gracefully wiggle out of his stance.
Wilbon however, was steadfast in his position, resolute. He was unwavering, unshakable, unhesitating, firm and pertinacious to the point of sounding obdurate and being obstinate. He was indefatigable.
He simply would not budge.
Perhaps this is what soured me and ultimately poisoned the thought altogether.
After all, numbers don’t lie and Rondo has good ones. Very good ones.
But I can be a little bull-headed myself and I say, “no.”
That’s what makes for a spirited sports dialogue — always fun in and of itself — is it not?
Good luck and may the best pundit win.
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in May 2017.]
ADDENDA: Jason Kidd, Mo Cheeks, Sidney Moncrief, JoJo White, Charlie Scott and Paul Westphal have since been enshrined in The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
After playing for the Celtics (2006–2014) Rajon Rondo has donned the jerseys of Dallas (2014–2015); Sacramento (2015–2016); Chicago (2016–2017); New Orleans (2017–2018); and the Lakers (2018-present).