The Celtics lost both games Rondo missed, and the local media – in particular sports radio – has ranted almost unceasingly about the point guard: He has no discipline. He can’t be coached. He’s a bum. Trade him.
No one, I notice, seems interested in why Rondo’s acting out. Everyone just sees a problem, and they want it excised immediately.
While no fanbase likes to lose, Boston sports fans (and media) hate to get beaten. We hate admitting that another team either played better than ours on a given night or simply is better.
And when faced with the reality that better teams exist, our reaction is always to redirect our frustration. Usually we focus on the behaviors of a particular player, making those behaviors reflect an attitude not conducive to winning.
Our self-esteem is salvaged: Since this fatal character flaw didn’t manifest until the final game, it wasn’t our fault for not recognizing it. And it wasn’t our fault the team lost.
We saw this entire thought process in the aftermath of Super Bowl XLVI – a game the Patriots lost because the Giants just played better that night. Instead of admitting that, fans cried foul over Rob Gronkowski’s partying and Gisele Bundchen’s complaining. Both were minor incidents blown completely out of proportion by a fanbase eager to blame anything but their own team’s deficiencies.
We’re see this same process with Rondo two weeks later. Once again, we’re choosing to blame a situation on a player for unrelated behavior.
The Celtics aren’t good this year. The lockout killed the preseason, and an already-old team started the regular season unprepared. Combined with a schedule that while shorter is also more concentrated than last season’s – 16 fewer games, 30 fewer rest days – and you have a 2012 season doomed before the first game.
The Celtics won’t win a championship this year. Other teams are too young and too talented. Celtics fans could readjust their expectations – making the playoffs, not winning them – but have instead chosen to take their frustrations out on Rondo. And Rondo knows a thing or two about frustration.
Rondo gets this is a lost season. But unlike the Big 3 – two of who will in all likelihood retire at season’s end – Rondo is in his prime. He’s angry that he has to waste a year of peak athletic ability playing on a team with no hope of winning it all.
Not only is Rondo pissed now, but he’s been pissed all season long – we just haven’t noticed. Rondo’s seven technical fouls put him tied for fourth in the NBA. In his first five seasons, Rondo’s never finished with more than four technicals. His previous highest finish in the NBA? 49th.
Rondo’s never behaved this way before; this season is an aberration. And what’s different this season? A much busier schedule that heavily favors younger, more athletic teams. Rondo’s Celtics began the season with a handicap, and it won’t go away until the season ends.
On top of that, Rondo is playing his first season following a major injury. While most athletes recover physically from their first, they permanently lose their feelings of invincibility and immortality. Starting this season, Rondo’s belief he can stay in the league forever is gone. Knowing that, playing on a team incapable of a championship becomes all the more difficult.
A serious athletic injury also has a habit of causing other injuries. While Rondo’s elbow (dislocated in Game 3 of the 2010-11 Eastern Conference semifinals) hasn’t acted up this season, a wrist injury has already cost him eight games. More injuries in future seasons are very possible – just ask J.D. Drew.
No matter what a player is going through, throwing a ball at a ref is never a good idea. But Rondo is the Celtics’ only high-profile player not at the tail-end of his career, and he has to waste one of a suddenly limited number of good years on a team without hope while simultaneously dealing with the rabid press every day. Of course he’s frustrated!
So let’s give Rondo a little break. He isn’t the reason the Celtics are losing: they’re losing because they’re too old. The sooner everyone recognizes that, the better we’ll all feel.
And that includes Rondo.