But did he make it to Chuck E. Cheese's?
"I haven't really read much about it. Heard a lot of comments. Nobody knows the story. You guys keep making up every story you guys possibly can. It's my business. Not yours."
- Rajon Rondo on blowing off work to celebrate his birthday
That, ladies in gentlemen, is the current captain of your Boston Celtics.
What did Rondo really do? Simple: He took a day off of work without the knowledge or blessing of his employer so he could spend his 28th birthday with his Mom [plus the wife and kids.]
Somewhere, Manny Ramirez must be wondering why he never came up with this excuse not to play. At least Rondo isn't downing Bud Lights and attacking buckets of Popeye's in the locker room during games - yet.
Bailing on our responsibilities to have birthday fun is something to which we can relate when we are eight, but not 28. Most kids would love to ditch school on their birthdays, even if they get cupcakes [gluten and GMO free no doubt] in class. Many of us would not mind skipping out on the boss behind her back on our birthday, as well, especially if it means quality time with the family.
But anyone who considers themselves a professional - or doesn't want to get fired - would not willfully play hooky and bail on their teammates/co-workers in the middle of a business trip. Even if the goal of management is to lose as many games as possible. The Celtics say the were not alerted by Rondo before he went AWOL, but, according to the Globe, a team security official escorted him to a car following the Celtics' loss to the Lakers Friday night. So some of the details need to be straightened out still.
[Internet/Twitter Disclaimer: We know Rondo is covered under a collective bargaining agreement that mitigates this issue, but we're talking perception and philosophy here.]
The list of all-time Celtics captains is littered with greatness, but it's not perfect. Among Rondo's predecessors wearing the "C" are Antoine Walker, Pervis Ellison and Rick Fox. Walker was prone to taking too many half-court three-pointers and some epic financial ineptitude. But as far as we know, he never defied the team to take off his birthday in the middle of a West Coast road trip.
It's too bad Rondo's birthday didn't come before the NBA's trading deadline. Had the front office been on the fence about dealing him, this might have pushed them to the right side of history. In the wake of Birthdaygate, Brad Stevens says it's time to "move on" and that Ainge will deal with this, eventually. Rondo hasn't been fined or "punished" in any way visible. But the fact that Danny hasn't spoken publicly, especially to tamp down the furor created by Rondo's unexcused absence, amply demonstrates the fact that he's not happy.
Anyone want to gauge the reaction of, let's say, Larry Bird if Ainge or another teammate skipped out on the team to blow out birthday candles at Mommy's House?
How do you say: "This [expletive] is never seeing any [expletive] playing time for the rest of the [expletive] season," in French Lick?
Did Celtics really try to deal Rondo and didn't find the right counteroffer? Or overvalue him? Maybe moving Rondo was never really the part of the plan. None of that matters now. He and the Celtics are stuck/happy with each other. This type of behavior can't make them feel any more secure if the plan is/was to go with Rondo in the long term. It also vindicates those of us who believed that the Celtics would never get more for Rondo in return than they would have at the 2014 trading deadline.
His value will continue to erode. Incidents like his decision to leave the team in California and miss Boston's crucial ejection-filled loss at Sacramento Saturday night to stay in Los Angeles, presumably to cut cake and open presents, reinforces the ugliest concerns the Celtics and their fans have had about the mercurial point guard since his arrival in Boston back in 2006.
"Rondo being Manny," minus the positive PED tests, isn't nearly as much fun. Manny Ramirez took plenty of unscheduled days off during his tenure with the Red Sox. He also bailed on more than one at-bat. Manny's effort when it mattered, however, was so good that he was the first World Series Cup MVP in Boston history. [The award was started in 1955.]
Manny always had Big Papi to mitigate and excuse his foolishness, as well. Rondo is alone in the Celtics locker room these days. There were multiple "leaders" in the Red Sox clubhouses in 2004 and '07. Manny's antics were often just a sideshow or an annoying distraction for Manager Terry Francona. [Save for his battery on the team's traveling secretary.] He aggravated the print, digital and broadcast journalists who covered the Red Sox, often by speaking Spanish or favoring Spanish-speaking reporters over the Boston-based regulars, many of whom were of Irish, Anglo-Saxon or Italian ancestry.
Rondo was a major contributor in the Celtics 2008 title run. He also showed his inner Gregory Campbell on May 7, 2011 when he dislocated his arm against the Heat in the playoffs only to return after it was popped back in to place:
Rondo is legendary for raising his level of play when the national spotlight is focused on the Celtics. He accomplishes this once in a while even without drawing a technical foul or throwing the ball at the ref. But he will never lead the Celtics to a championship because he's a point guard and he's incapable of the leadership this team found from the likes of Russell, Cowens, Bird, or Paul Pierce.
Maybe the Celtics named Rondo team captain with the hope that being named captain would actually make him "captain." Leaders are first born, then made. Being a captain means being a star player, leader and putting the concerns of the Celtics and your teammates ahead of your own desire for family birthday fun when you turn 28.
Rondo, in classic Manny style, blamed the messenger without clarifying the message. He didn't give a reason for what he did because he didn't have to give a reason. Given Rondo's role with the team and his age, there's really no reason at all he should have walked away from the Celtics either against their wishes or without letting them know of his plans. His job is to play basketball, not act on child-like impulses.
Let's say, hypothetically of course, that there's some reason why he needed to be with his mom this year due to an illness or other family crisis. Certainly, the Celtics would weigh that and, if, given the gravity, give him their blessing to take a day off in a season where losses mean far more than victories. Brad Stevens would have said this absence was excused. End of story.
My son's 15th birthday fell when I was hospitalized two hours away recovering from the first of my two liver transplants. He wanted to be with me in the hospital that day. What better way to spend your 15th birthday than to be with dad on the 9th floor of Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla., with Florida Field in view outside the window? But the four-hour round trip would have meant him missing a day of school. He stayed home. We celebrated his birthday again after my discharge three days later with another cake.
Now, if my son had been captain of the Celtics, I would have called Stevens myself and told him not to let him leave the team, period. I'd even schedule my funeral on an off day to help the Tankapalooza cause.
But that's just me. I don't have to wrestle with the massive egos and fragile psyches of NBA players like Stevens does. During his days at Butler, Stevens dealt with college-aged men on a daily basis, and has recruited petulant teens every year. He's no doubt seen plenty of Rondos, except they were probably still in high school.
Birthdaygate would be a much bigger deal if the Celtics were playing for something beyond Ping Pong balls. Would Rondo have bolted on the Celtics if they were battling Miami for home field throughout the playoffs as opposed to Orlando for the No. 3 pick? Maybe. Maybe not.
Manny had a strong core of support among Red Sox fans despite his battles with the media, his teammates and the Red Sox travelling secretary. That support was earned by the fact that Manny was the best [PED-aided, of course] right-handed hitter since Hank Aaron. Manny delivered big on the big stage, made us laugh and gave us gobs of post-season moments like this:
Unlike Manny, Rondo appears to have the long-term support of his team, State Run Media and many of the regulars who cover the Celtics. "Rondo has built enough equity to be excused for his disregard of the rules, but he has to realize that incidents such as these don't help his perception outside the organization," is how the Globe's Gary Washburn explained the situation. This is will obviously weigh on Ainge's mind if or when he decides on punishment and will likely mitigate any of the fallout here.
Rondo loves the Big Stage. Perhaps too much. Problem is he can't be bothered with the medium or little ones. Rondo did not waste any time reminding the Celtics of his value on the court, scoring 22 points in Boston's 115-104 must-lose victory over Atlanta. That's got to frustrate the front office even more. Not only does Rondo bolt on his team and teammates in California, he returns and comes through big in a crushing victory over the Hawks in a game the Celtics really needed to lose.
Celtics fans, however, judging by the ones I've heard, read and spoken to, are frustrated, if not pissed and won't be sending him any presents or cards.
It's not a money thing. Player salaries are old news. Rondo will make $12.9 million this season. [Matt Damon probably made at least that much for the crapfest "Elysium."] The Celtics, meanwhile, are worth $875 million and are projected to have an operating income of $46.8 million. There's plenty of green in this Green Team for everyone on Legends Way. The team's value has increased 223 percent since Rondo came to town. Certainly the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen helped, too.
What really angers fans, and no doubt many of Rondo's teammates past and present, is the fact that someone with his talents, basketball skills, physical abilities, and his place as captain of the Celtics doesn't appear to be someone who appreciates it every day.
Rondo knows he's a damn good player, and so do the rest of us.
It's just too bad he doesn't act it like more often.
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