The Two Hour Teammate

By Erika Johnson - MaineRedClaws.com

It was January 25, 2013, and the Boston Celtics were facing off against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena. Unfortunately for Rajon Rondo and the Celtics, this would be the day the All-Star point guard would suffer a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee. Rajon’s initial diagnosis was a hyperextended knee, but after further testing the devastating news came out - No. 9 would miss the remainder of the 2012-13 season with a torn ACL.

Rondo underwent surgery in February before beginning his recovery process that would take almost a full year to complete. The final step in this process was a short yet successful stint with the Maine Red Claws, the NBA Development League affiliate of the Boston Celtics. He was officially assigned to the Red Claws on Wednesday, January 15, 2014.

Red Claws team president, Bill Ryan, believes the assignment of Rondo was significant. “It was huge for our team and the D-League to be able to contribute to his rehabilitation. We work in a close relationship with the Celtics and we’re always happy to do anything that they need. This was an important opportunity for him to get back and feel like he was ready in a game-like situation.”

Because of league rules, Rondo had to officially be assigned to the Red Claws from the Celtics in order to participate in team activities. Although a unique situation, it is not the first time a high-caliber player had been assigned for a brief rehab stint. In 2012, the New York Knicks assigned Amar’e Stoudemire to their D-League affiliate, the Erie BayHawks. Stoudemire was recovering from knee surgery, and with the Knicks light on practices, Erie traveled to New York to allow the six-time All-Star to get more time in on the practice court before returning to the floor at Madison Square Garden.

Rondo participated in a two-hour Red Claw practice at the Celtics practice facility in Waltham, Massachusetts that mostly featured full-court scrimmaging. With the hectic in-season schedule of the Celtics, it had been difficult for Rondo to get that type of workout in with his squad in Boston. After being sidelined for months, he felt that he needed a full-speed game scenario before returning to the Celtics line up.

Practice with the Red Claws turned out to be exactly what the star point guard needed. The Celtics recalled Rondo immediately upon the conclusion of the practice, and he suited up at the TD Garden two days later against the Los Angeles Lakers. This opportunity was extremely beneficial for Rondo and the Celtics, but equally as important to the Red Claws.

Word in the Red Claws locker room post-practice was unanimous: this experience was a true honor for the team. Maine big man Ty Walker went as far as saying that practicing with Rondo was the best experience of his life. “He’s the smartest point guard I’ve ever played with. It was amazing to see his overall knowledge of the game, he made us better.”

“It was a great experience for our team and also for the Celtics organization to see where Rondo was in his development with the progression of his injury. It was great for our team to play with such a talented point guard who can make quality plays at any time,” Chris Wright said of the opportunity. Wright also expressed his gratitude for the relationship the Red Claws have with the Celtics. He said that it meant a lot to have the Celtics bring the Red Claws into their facility to practice with Rondo for a fun and positive experience.

The time spent with Rajon Rondo was particularly inspirational to Red Claws point guard Abdul Gaddy. “It was an important experience for me as a young guy and as a point guard to learn from a player of that caliber and to witness the vision that he has on the court. It was good for our team and also for him to be able to rehab his knee and go live against skilled players,” Gaddy recalled.

There was a common theme when discussing the Rondo assignment: the strong relationship between the Celtics and the Red Claws continues to be impactful for both clubs. Head Coach Mike Taylor believes that Maine’s association with Boston is a model relationship among D-League and NBA affiliations. “We’re very connected. I think the Celtics do a great job with our team in terms of direction and organization. There’s a lot of communication, both with the coaching staff and the front office.”

This relationship was strengthened even more through the assignment of Rajon Rondo. The Red Claws were happy to play their part in his recovery process, ensuring a safe return with the Celtics. Rondo’s leadership skills and immense knowledge for the game of basketball were evident during his two hour stint as a part of Crustacean Nation. Although he did not make his way onto the Portland Expo court sporting a Red Claws jersey, his time with the team will be forever remembered in Maine’s organization.