Remember when NBA players were actually good at fighting? Nope, me neither. But I’ve watched plenty of grainy YouTube clips featuring the on-court exploits of those notorious pugilists from a by-gone era; an era when throwing hands was reluctantly tolerated, and the likes of Willis Reed, and, unfortunately, Kermit Washington made today’s tough guys seem a lot less scary.
And please, don’t tell me that Shaq can fight, or was a tough guy—I’ve seen him try to punch Brad Miller.
Wednesday night’s brawl between the Nets and Celtics reminds us that, thankfully, most recent NBA fights end up in awkward pushing/wrestling matches, with no one getting seriously hurt—and that there is zero tolerance for those kinds of on-court shenanigans nowadays.
Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace were ejected, Kevin Garnett should’ve been, and of course, Rajon Rondo, the player who did the most to escalate the brawl, left to have an early shower.
Rondo’s ejection, of course, snapped his somewhat pointless streak of 37 straight games with double-digit assist numbers, but more importantly, it again highlighted the irritating, and worrying (if you’re a Celtics fan) discipline problem that the uber-talented point-guard seems to have.
For some die-hard Celtics fans/ex-players, Tommy Heinsohn included, Rondo’s involvement in last night’s fracas was admirable. He was standing up for his teammate Garnett, and fighting a much bigger man in Humphries—sending the message that the Celtics won’t be pushed around.
Okay, sure, he went after the bigger man, but anyone that Rondo chooses to scuffle with is going to be bigger than him—unless he wants to fight J.J. Barea or Nate Robinson.
More to the point, Rondo’s behavior was self-destructive, bad for his team, and generally in keeping with the petulant side of his personality we’ve seen too many times since he’s been in the league.
Rondo undoubtedly has an ‘eff-you’ kind of edge to his game, which is great, if it’s channeled in the right way. He’s one of the most gifted players in the NBA, and one of my favourites to watch for the way he can take your breath away with moments of pure genius. But he can also be a liability at times. Forget the basketball stuff, the lack of a jump shot or criticisms of that kind, for now. It’s the shoving officials, throwing balls at officials, and starting fights, that should worry Doc Rivers right now.
Rivers said of Rondo after the Nets game: “You want to be on the edge, but you don’t want to take it over the edge. And he’s done that a couple times”.
Therein lies the conundrum for Rivers and the Celtics: How do you keep Rondo in check without completely stifling his competitive edge? It’s a delicate balancing act, for sure. Really, however, part of that should be on the player himself.
Pick you moments, Rondo. Sure, get in Dwayne Wade’s face during big games, even trash talk LeBron James if you dare, but fighting Humphries because Garnett flopped is not picking your moments.
Rondo’s lack of smarts when it comes to this stuff is more infuriating given the states of his team’s offense when he’s not on the court. Forget the Big-3, Rondo is now the Celtic’s franchise superstar. Everything revolves around him, and his team relies on him more than ever right now. They need him on the court playing like the transcendent, amazing player that he is, not playing the tough guy.
Sorry Rondo, this isn’t 1975.