Rajon Rondo Holds Court in Style
Rajon Rondo exudes confidence. Not that late-night infomercial confidence. This is real. Yet it comes in such a straightforward and matter-of-fact delivery that it’s completely disarming. Rondo doesn’t talk trash about his game or his life. Rather, he has an almost casual acceptance of where and who he is.
Most of the time when an athlete claims status as “the best,” I’m skeptical. When I ask Rondo about his place among NBA point guards he says, “In some areas some guys might be better than me, but overall, if you lay it all out, I think I am the best.” The way he speaks—in a low-key manner while proclaiming to be the best in the NBA—underscores the dichotomy that is Rondo. The statement’s audacity doesn’t match the subdued delivery. He makes me believe it. And many NBA fans (in and outside of Boston) believe it. And for those who don’t yet? This season, without the competition for his position on the court from former teammate Ray Allen, Rondo will have an even greater chance to prove it.
While he has the utmost faith in his own abilities, Rondo is that rare athlete who also recognizes that his success was and is nurtured and assisted by other people on his team and in his life. Such self-awareness is not the norm among the best of the best. He’s quick to point out a long list of other very good point guards in the NBA and give some credit to his teammates for his success. He speaks of some fellow Celtics with near reverence, citing Kevin Garnett “as kind of like an older brother or a mentor… a guy who has all the success that I am trying to reach and is willing to share his knowledge.”
Rondo’s résumé includes plenty of impressive statistics, but a point guard in the NBA is never defined purely by numbers. At Rondo’s position you can have a great game and not necessarily score a lot of points, and he’ll be the first to say it. “It’s always the whole package,” he says. “Some fans look at a point guard and say he had 26 points, seven assists, and eight rebounds, and they’ll say he had a great game. But there is a lot of talent in the NBA, and eventually that talent catches up with you. The mental game is where it’s at. I would say the game is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical, for me at least. What separates great players from good ones is performing consistently. I can dominate the game in any number of ways, not just with the numbers.”
People can judge point guards by assessing passing, scoring, defense, and a slew of other things, but Rondo takes it a little further. “My definition of what a good point guard is might be different from what some others might think,” he says. “I’ll give you an example: If [head coach] Doc Rivers gets thrown out, I can run the team for the rest of the game. I know what plays to call, what sets to call, or when to call time outs. It’s more than keeping track of the score. There is so much more going on that you take for granted on any given night, and there are only so many guys who can run a team when you don’t have a coach. In that category I think I am the best at what I do.” Rondo has the rare ability to see the big picture while still focusing on the details of his own game.
He also understands that his place in the history of the Celtics and the NBA will be determined, in large part, by championships. “The Celtics and their fans don’t just want X number of wins and playoffs,” he says. “We all want championships… and the banners prove that.” The pressure seems not to faze him. “For me it’s a good thing. There is a lot more pressure in Boston to win than there is almost anywhere else. I love it. I feed off of it.” These are the facts of his life, and he states them as such, showing little emotion other than pride in his team and his craft. When I was in the NFL, it was never the loud guys who worried me. What I had to watch for was that highly skilled quiet guy who just knew he was tougher. Rondo is that guy. He won’t use his words to try to scare you into believing he is the best; he would rather prove it to you. When he says he is the best, he is not bragging—he is simply acknowledging what he sees as the truth. He doesn’t care if you believe him or not. He believes it, and to him that’s all that really matters.
That’s not to say that basketball is Rondo’s one and only passion. He gets especially cocksure, in his playful way, about his fashion sense. I ask him to name the three best-dressed guys in the organization. Without hesitation he answers, “Besides myself?” This was all said in good fun, but Rajon Rondo has a reputation as a player in the NBA’s off-court sartorial side game. He has declared himself the best-dressed Celtic—and that includes coaches and management.
Rondo lights up when he talks style. “Some guys will just wear anything,” he says, “but I really care about my appearance.” He leans toward European designers, with Yves Saint Laurent being a favorite, especially for suiting. And he’s a not-so-closeted shoe junkie, harboring somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 pairs, including Lanvin, Louboutin, and John Varvatos. In order to broaden his knowledge of style, Rondo spent a week as an “intern” at GQ during Fall Fashion Week. This is pure Rondo. He looks at fashion the way he looks at basketball: See the big picture. Study the situation. Win the game.
Rondo’s private life brings out an entirely different side of him. The self-described homebody credits his daughter for keeping him grounded, and as quick as he is to talk basketball or fashion, Rondo is just as quick to defer talk of his charitable endeavors. He runs basketball camps for kids back home in Louisville, Kentucky. He works under the radar in the Boston area to help children here. He does any number of good things that we never hear about. Or we hear of them well after they happen, such as his work with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a nonprofit organization that works toward the health and safety of youth. Every year he’ll take a group of kids back-to-school shopping for new sneakers, clothes, and school supplies. This past year, he also took them roller-skating. To the partial frustration of the Celtics’ PR department, Rondo says, “I don’t need the cameras there every time I do something for someone.” It’s a refreshing attitude in this age of self-promotion and image branding. Rondo is philanthropic for the right reasons—because he understands that a man should give back. It is simply the right thing to do.
Rajon Rondo has figured it out: The measure of a man is not money or fame—a man is defined by how he treats the people in his life, by how hard he works at what he does, and by caring about the world in which he lives. Rondo is a great basketball player, a sharp dresser, a charitable guy. But more importantly, he is a good man.
photography by andrew eccles; Styling by Monica Cotto; Grooming by Kathleen; Schiffmann for Team Artists Representative