Here’s the truth: You never really know someone until you live with them, and even then it’s not always clear sometimes.
We’re mythmakers in the media, and I’ve been guilty as well, telling stories, revealing intimacies about heroes and villains, drawing that word picture that takes you inside to how they really are. Except it’s merely a snapshot of time and place-selfie, if you will–of a moment and an attitude or position.
I was thinking about that Monday afternoon as I sat for a few hours inside a gym on the UNLV campus watching Rajon Rondo go through drill after drill, shooting and driving, again and again with Bulls assistant coaches Jim Boylen and Randy Brown.
That’s what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas is about?
Actually, my hotel appears to have a convention going on of women in spiked heels and very short dresses, if they can be called dresses, accompanied by overweight men wearing oversized t-shirts and shower slippers. It’s better that look stays in Vegas.
So I sat in the gym.
My gambling, also, has not gone well in the 21st Century and much of the 20th. There are not many people who when they sit down at the gaming table the dealer has to stifle a laugh.
So I watched Rondo, the Bulls new point guard with a very guarded history and reputation.
He sat on the bench Sunday during the Bulls summer league game and then early Monday afternoon went through practice with the summer league team, giving instruction and demonstrating. Was this just for show?
The majority of the practice was closed to media as usual, but Rondo seemed not to notice or change when media entered the last 15 minutes, talking to players, running dribble handoffs with them.
The players then did some stretching and free throw shooting and filed out to take the bus back to the team hotel.
Rondo stayed and it was a curiosity to watch.
After all, here’s a player who has been an All-Star and all-defense four times, played for an NBA champion with the Boston Celtics and three times, including last season, led the league in assists and once in steals.
But Boylen was showing Rondo a way to shoot a baseline reverse. Again and again, Rondo sprinted from the right corner trying a reverse on the left side of the basket, then running to the left corner and trying a reverse on the right side of the basket. I’d seen Rondo do this in games for years, big games since he isn’t known for his perimeter shooting. Boylen was demonstrating stretching his arm out more when finishing than Rondo usually does, holding the ball higher. Rondo tried repeatedly, not connecting as much, again one time after another. Then spinning the ball off the backboard, trying to find just the right spot, attempting it over and over.
Then it was driving with the ball stretched ahead of him some and higher, pulling up and shooting from around the free throw line. Again and again for another half hour with some free throw shooting mixed in. Then some shots out on the wing, getting the ball in a different position, a changing arc.
Rondo was shirtless in that J.R. Smith look, and given the 6-1 Rondo’s bony, 180-pound frame it clearly wasn’t to show off.
I was thinking why Rondo was doing this, especially the dribble-reverse layup drills. After all, he is one of the better driving finishers in the game with his large hands. It was like Tiger Woods trying to change his golf swing after winning the Master’s by 15 strokes. Which, actually, Tiger did.
It is something with the great athletes.
The best ones really never are satisfied. There’s always talk among great players about using the summer to improve your game, coming back with something additional or better. But it’s really more than that. Great athletes expect almost perfection. It’s why you often see the best ones not celebrating the wins all that much. They expect to win; it’s the losses they remember. Bill Walton barely can tell you anything about the 88 straight UCLA wins. But he’ll tell you almost play by play the loss to Notre Dame to end the streak.
So even though Rondo made these kinds of layups in championship series, he is open to seeing if he can do it better, more effectively. After all, no one is perfect in basketball.
The practice gym at the Cox Center, the auxiliary arena where the summer league games are going on, was empty except for Rondo and the two coaches and a trainer. Workers walked through occasionally. No one stopped. It was just men at work.
As they wrapped up, Rondo stopped to shake hands with Boylen and then with Brown. As they were walking off, Rondo stopped to chat briefly.
I asked him why given all his experience in situations was he changing a move he attempted thousands of times. I joked that he used to be a good finisher.
He said he could always get better, always improve. He smiled and said certainly with shooting. But he also said if someone wanted to work with you like the coaches did and put in their time, he respected and appreciated that and would take advantage. He said he usually comes to summer league to work out with young players. No big deal.
I said he must have gotten so many different instructions from so many coaches. He said you never know when someone can help make you better, who knew or saw something no one else did, that it was sort of an eternal quest.
I said this wasn’t the Rondo we always heard about.
He shrugged. That stuff doesn’t much bother him. Tough to coach, disruptive, inappropriate language. He said, like he did back in Chicago last week at his news conference, that he was satisfied people close to him knew how he really was. He added, hey, there actually was a good story about him today.
There was, interestingly,
By an article about Rondo quietly being a mentor to 10 kids from Chicago’s South Side.
Rondo did so when he was with the Kings last season without any knowledge he’d be coming to the Bulls.
Rondo said he knew the ESPN writer, Marc Spears, from the Boston Globe, that he’s a good guy and had been asking Rondo if he could write something about the things Rondo does privately. He’s been doing projects like this with kids around the country for years, though doesn’t have them publicized. Others do as well. It’s not what makes anyone a good guy or who doesn’t a bad guy. It’s just what he says he likes to do.
Rondo said he was going to shower and then watch some summer league basketball as the Bulls were not playing until Tuesday evening.
NBA players come to summer league occasionally. Several were around this weekend because of the UFC fight in Las Vegas. The fights are popular with NBA players. Gary Payton, Dennis Schroder, Joel Embiid, John Wall, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns were at games along with many former players who now are team executives. None seemed to be working out with the rookies and free agents from their teams other than Rondo.
It doesn’t change who he is or what he’s done or make him a good guy or a bad guy. It’s another snapshot, another broad brush stroke in the picture that continues to emerge of a player and a person we are just getting to know.
And who seems worth getting to know.
There’s an old saying about walking a mile in someone shoes before making any great judgment. That can be rewarding as well. Because then you have their shoes and they are unlikely to chase you a mile because they no longer have shoes.
This Rajon Rondo experiment just might be something worth watching. Might just be fun.