Every professional athlete, both great and not-so-great, retires. Some exit after just a year, injured or unable to transition to the professional level. Many make it into their 30s. Some stay in the majors until their mid or even late 40s. But the career always ends, usually with half a lifetime left.
Athletes exit able to do just about anything they want, and that means some of them do some pretty weird stuff. How weird? Here are my 10 favorite post-athletic careers.
10) Mookie Wilson, center fielder.Post-baseball career: truck driver. Wilson hit the ball that went under Bill Buckner’s glove to end Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. That paved the way for a Game 7 Mets victory – their last World Series title – and 18 more years of Red Sox misery. Now, he drives a truck. Seems kinda anti-climactic.
9) Johnnie Morton, wide receiver.Post-football career: MMA fighter. Morton played in the NFL for 11 years before retiring. He fought Bernard Ackah in his first MMA fight and was knocked out in 38 seconds. Then he refused to take a post-fight drug test and was banned indefinitely. I think the only possibly shorter career would be “nuclear bomb catcher.”
8) Gerald Ford, center/linebacker.Post-football career: 38th and 40th President of the United States. This is my catch-all tribute to athletes who go on to politics. On the football field, Ford helped the Michigan Wolverines win two undefeated national championships. As president, he pardoned Richard Nixon, and that was kinda it (discounting two assassination attempts). This is probably the most extreme example of good athletes becoming bad politicians (see also: Jim Bunning, Heath Shuler).
Rondo was shooting better than 50 percent before March 8, but his accuracy dropped over 7 percent for the remainder of the season following the fundraiser. Obama’s comments may very well have affected Rondo. The excerpt from MacMullan’s book suggests as much, with O’Neal relaying Kevin Garnett‘s observation that Rondo looked hurt.
It was a joke, perhaps, but an unfair one at best, a hurtful one at worst. And one the President of the United States has no business making.
The Cheap-Shot Artist
Rondo played with three Hall of Famers (four when O’Neal was healthy) in the 2010-11 season, each of whom owned a different part of the offensive court. Allen drained threes with a sniper’s calm; Paul Pierce had the pull-up jumper and could hack and slash his way through the lanes or to the foul line; Garnett owned the post and the 20-footer; O’Neal could out-body anyone under the basket. Exactly where on the court, Mr. Obama, would you want Rondo to be shooting?
We’ve known since his campaign that President Obama is a decent basketball player. We learned during the 2011 NCAA Tournament that Obama is a very knowledgeable basketball fan. It is therefore reasonable to assume that if Obama had seen any Celtics games before the fundraiser, he would’ve realized that the Celtics neither needed nor wanted Rondo to be a shooter.
Mocking Rondo’s shooting reeks of the easy joke, of the cheap shot. For a man so understanding of basketball strategy, to fall back on a simple joke like “Rondo can’t shoot” shows a measure of cowardice and herd mentality. Everyone else criticizes Rondo for poor shooting, so why not the President as well?
A far more courageous joke would have been to mock Pierce’s flopping. Here, I’ll give you an example: “Paul, it’s nice to see you standing upright for once. You spend so much time flopping on the ground, I half-expect to see you playing in the next World Cup.” Or: “Man, Shaq, when you sat on that bench in Harvard Square, I think that was the longest you’ve ever gone without talking in your whole life. Bravo, sir!” See, was that so hard? I don’t even have a speech writing staff!
Making an unfair joke at Rondo’s expense was a missed opportunity for the President. He could’ve once again shown off his great basketball knowledge, perhaps ingratiating himself further with the youth vote. Instead, all he showed was that he watches “SportsCenter.”
Mocking Pierce, O’Neal or any of the other veteran members of the Celtics would have been fine. All of them have reached a point in their careers where they can approach themselves with a bit of humor. Rondo is in a different place.
Despite the leadership he shows on the court, Rondo still plays in the shadows of his teammates. Three will enter the Hall of Fame, and one will have his number retired and raised forever to the rafters of the TD Garden. Rondo has no idea what his legacy, either as an NBA player or a Celtic, will be.
Rondo plays with an inferiority complex, and drawing attention to his greatest fault only makes that worse. It’s like mocking a boy with a lisp or the girl who hasn’t hit puberty yet: It’s bullying, plain and simple. And as the most powerful man in the world, President Obama’s mockeries carry the most weight and the most hurt.
I won’t presume who Rondo voted for in the 2008 election (assuming he voted at all), but it would not surprise me if Rondo voted for Obama. Think how humiliated you would feel if the man you supported and helped put in power turned around and, instead of thanking you, mocked you in front of your colleagues.
Obama may have thought his words were an off-the-cuff joke, but there is no such thing as “off the cuff” with the Presidency. Everything must be planned, because every action sends a thousand messages and signals, intentional or otherwise.
Obama likely did not want to destabilize one of the NBA’s best passers, but he did anyway. Perhaps a private apology would be appropriate.