Rajon Rondo doubles down on spitting denial, calls Chris Paul 'a horrible teammate'

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/4149/" data-ylk="slk:Rajon Rondo">Rajon Rondo</a> and <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/3930/" data-ylk="slk:Chris Paul">Chris Paul</a> came to blows in the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/teams/hou" data-ylk="slk:Houston Rockets">Houston Rockets</a>’ victory against the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/teams/lal" data-ylk="slk:Los Angeles Lakers">Los Angeles Lakers</a> on Saturday. (AP)
Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul came to blows in the Houston Rockets’ victory against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday. (AP)

While Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram expressed surprise on Monday after only receiving a four-game suspension for his role in Saturday’s brawl with the Houston Rockets, teammate Rajon Rondo told reporters prior to serving the first of his three-game ban, “It’s best for me not to talk about the situation,” a sentiment that lasted less than 24 hours before the veteran point guard went nuclear.

In an interview with ESPN on Tuesday, Rondo again denied spitting on Chris Paul prior to their physical altercation and accused his Rockets counterpart of concocting “spitgate” to make himself out as the good guy, a narrative Rondo decidedly does not agree with, calling Paul “a horrible teammate.”

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“Of course, the NBA went with his side because I got three games and he got two,” Rondo told ESPN. “Everyone wants to believe Chris Paul is a good guy. They don’t know he’s a horrible teammate. They don’t know how he treats people. Look at what he did last year when he was in L.A.; trying to get to the Clippers locker room. They don’t want to believe he’s capable of taunting and igniting an incident.”

The origins of the Rajon Rondo-Chris Paul beef

The beef between Rondo and Paul did not start stewing this week. It reportedly began in 2008, when Paul beat out Rondo for Team USA. A year later, Rondo allegedly told Paul during a game, “I’ve got a ring, and you’re never gonna win one,” and the two nearly came to blows in the hallway afterward.

It took almost a decade for them to finally throw punches. In the fourth quarter of a hotly contested Rockets-Lakers game on Saturday, Paul and Rondo came nose to nose. The confrontation appeared to turn physical when Paul poked Rondo’s eye. Rondo responded by sandwiching three punches to Paul’s face around a pair coming back his way. Ingram unleashed another in Paul’s direction before LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony helped separate the pack that enveloped the two longtime rivals.

Paul says Rondo spit in his face, and the NBA agrees

Afterward, Paul accused Rondo of spitting in his face, provoking his eye-poking, a charge that was supported by video evidence presented to the league. The NBA indeed sided with Paul, announcing in an official press release that “Rondo has been suspended for instigating a physical altercation with, and spitting and throwing multiple punches at, Paul.” Rondo’s three-game ban again beat Paul’s two.


Rondo blames the spit on his mouthguard

Rondo vehemently denied spitting on Paul in the immediate aftermath of the altercation, instead suggesting that any spittle finding its way to Paul’s cheek came unintentionally from his mouthguard, and the Lakers point guard doubled down on that defense in Tuesday’s interview with ESPN:

“This is the only time I’m going to address this. I had a mouthpiece in my mouth and I was exasperated because I was about to tell him to ‘get the [expletive] out of here.’

“Look at my body language [in the video]. My hands on my hips. I turn away for a second. Look at Eric [Gordon] and Melo [Carmelo Anthony] in the video. If they saw me spit, they would have turned their face up or something. They had no reaction.”

[…]

“One, if I spit on you, bottom line, there is not going to be no finger-pointing. If you felt that I just spit on you, then all bets are off. Two, look at my body language. If I spit on you on purpose, I’m going to be ready for a man to swing on me. You ain’t going to have my hands on my hip and my head look away at someone if I spit on them. After the [expletive] goes down, within 30 seconds, you run and tell the sideline reporters that I spit on you? If I spit on you, you are trying to get to me. You not trying to make up a story so you can look like a good guy. It makes no sense to me.

“I was going to let it rest. I wasn’t going to say much. But now I have kids and I teach my kids to speak up for themselves and don’t let the world tell their story.”

Who is the more ‘horrible teammate’?

Whether or not he intentionally spit on Paul, Rondo threw another jab that is sure to sting Paul again on Tuesday, calling the NBA Players Association president “a horrible teammate” and generally bad dude through the media. This is sure to generate much discussion throughout the league, where opinions will no doubt come down on either side of this ever-escalating point guard pettiness.

Paul’s clashes with Clippers teammates boiled over during a near brawl in the locker room last season, and his bouts with officials are notorious, but that is all framed as fiery competitiveness within a well-crafted image as one of the game’s most talented and brilliant playmakers. This despite years of injury-plagued playoff disappointments by his star-studded teams in L.A. and Houston.


Meanwhile, Rondo’s reputation has ridden a rollercoaster during his 13-year career. His own repeated run-ins with coaches were once veiled by a quirky genius, a label that stuck with the four-time All-Star until an ACL injury in 2013 spiraled downward into an underwhelming trade to Dallas in 2014, when he promptly quit on the Mavericks and soon found himself trying to reclaim his career in Sacramento. He’s played for five different teams in the last five years, reemerging last season as a plus contributor on the New Orleans Pelicans before signing in L.A. this past summer. All the while, Rondo’s teammates (save for Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade) have consistently applauded his veteran presence.

In between, Rondo became an NBA heel for good reason. He repeatedly called referee Bill Kennedy a gay slur after a 2015 ejection, all but forcing Kennedy to publicly discuss his sexuality for the first time.

The ramifications of Rondo’s disdain for Paul

We can debate whether Rondo or Paul is the better teammate, but the former just put himself in a precarious position in the Lakers’ locker room. LeBron counts Paul among his “three very good friends” in the NBA, along with Wade and Rockets forward Carmelo Anthony. Not only did Rondo punch LeBron’s friend in the face, he called him a bad guy, which might end up being the bigger deal here.

The Rondo-Paul saga was already personal, especially since Rondo’s girlfriend allegedly confronted Paul’s wife in the stands after their significant others met on the court, but this takes it a step further.

The rest of us are just left to circle Dec. 13 on the calendar, when the Lakers next visit the Rockets.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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