Rajon Rondo welcomes children to a Connect Four demolition (Brian Babineau/ Getty).
Even as he sits out the rest of the season with a torn ACL, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo remains one of the most interesting characters in the NBA. At times, he appears as one giant anthropomorphized eccentricity. He's more into roller-skating than anyone since 1982, dresses like a Dick Tracy villain, and plays basketball in a style that inverts the court.
One of Rondo's most peculiar qualities is his love of Connect Four, the tic-tac-toe-ish board game meant for kids 7 and up. He's a whiz at the game, and he's proud of it. In a new profile for Sports Illustrated, Lee Jenkins delves into Rondo's mastery of the game. The piece isn't online yet, but Andrew Sharp of SB Nation has the relevant portions:
The Celtics didn't want to change Rondo when he arrived, but they didn't want to him either. So at charity foundations he perched behind a folding table where he could avoid the back-slapping, baby-hugging and other standard forms of celebrity fakery. He just played Connect Four, against anybody who dared, usually two grids at a time and sometimes three. "This has been going on for six years," Matt Meyersohn, the Celtics' director of community relations, said on Dec. 22 during an event at the Blue Hill Boys & Girls Club in Dorchester, Mass. "He's played hundreds of Connect Four games, maybe a thousand. And he's never lost."
Later that day Rondo sat behind a table and three girls. Across from him there were more than 100 children he had showered with bikes, Razor scooters and iPod Touches that he bought at Target and distributed from the back of a U-Haul. "I thought he might let us win," said a 12 year-old named Olissa. "But he was so serious." [...]
Olissa was the last challenger. He stared back at Rondo through wire-rimmed glasses. He clenched teeth covered with braces. He initiated what he called a trap, forcing Rondo to the right side of the grid, putting him on the defensive. When Olissa dropped the winning disk, Celtics officials started to shout. Meyerson grabbed the microphone. "This has never happened!" he bellowed. [...]
"I can't believe it," [Rondo] said. "But did you notice I played the guy five more times and won them all? I had to show him, 'You beat me, I'll beat the s*** out of you.'"
Rondo regularly tweets about his Connect Four prowess, so it's not surprising to hear he's this brutally efficient at putting away the 12-year-old competition. Nevertheless, we're still talking about Connect Four. I'm guessing that fellow Celtics guard Avery Bradley isn't really serious about Candy Land.
If Rondo's interest in Connect Four proves his eccentricities, it's also evidence that he's a genuine weirdo. The NBA's charitable efforts are well-meaning and very helpful, but they also tend to have a feel-good sheen to them that can appear media-ready. Rondo isn't shy about demolishing the Connect Four competition even as he helps kids. There's a dissonance between his altruism and ruthlessness that doesn't seem predetermined or false.
We care about Rondo mainly because he brings that same authenticity of personality to the court, and it's our loss that we won't get to see it for the rest of the 2012-13 season. But at least we have Jenkins' profile, which I can't wait to read in full.
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