With the Lakers winning the 2019-20 NBA championship, it’s time for all of us who doubted him to once again apologize to Rajon Rondo, or more accurately, to make amends for ever doubting the existence of Playoff Rondo.
Rondo was a tour de force for the Lakers in the playoffs, going from averaging 7.1 points and 5 assists while shooting 32.8% from three in the regular season to averages of 8.9 points, 6.6 assists and shooting 40% from deep. It all resulted in his second title, 12 years after winning his first one, the longest wait between titles for any NBA player ever who played in more than one game for their team in the playoffs.
He was just a sophomore in the NBA when he helped the Celtics capture their 17th championship in 2008, and after two underwhelming regular seasons in Los Angeles, he’s just grateful he was able to help the Lakers get their own 17th title.
“To be able to come back and redeem myself and play a big part in this championship is definitely a hell of a feeling and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Rondo said, adding that he was additionally thrilled his son, Rajon Jr., was able to join him in the bubble for this one.
“I’m very blessed to do it while he’s able to understand, at nine years old, that his dad is a champ,” Rondo said. “12 years ago, he wasn’t born yet, so for him to be here, and my daughter at home watching, it’s definitely a surreal feeling.”
Little Rondo got to watch his dad put on a show, too. Not only did Rondo raise all of his averages in the postseason and set the aforementioned record for longest time between titles, he also put his name in the history books in a few other ways.
Rondo became just the second player in history (and first since the Lakers moved to Los Angeles) to win titles with both the Lakers and Celtics, joining Clyde Lovelette. Somehow even more notably, Rondo also ended the playoffs with 105 assists off the bench, which set a new NBA record for the most by a player off the bench since starts began being tracked during the 1970-71 season, per Elias Sports Bureau.
Making that stat more impressive? Rondo didn’t even play in the first round.
Rondo’s 7 threes in the Finals also contributed to the Lakers as a whole making 84, setting a new NBA Finals record for a six-game series, surpassing the Warriors in 2019. And when the team needed him most in Game 6 against the Heat, Playoff Rondo morphed into Finals Rondo, scoring 13 points on 6-6 shooting in the first half as the Lakers built a 28-point lead, becoming the first player to put up those kinds of numbers off the bench since Nene did so in 2017.
After the game, Rondo said he was motivated by his son, who was upset that the Lakers didn’t finish things off in Game 5. He says neither of them slept well before Game 6, and that he didn’t eat anything all day. That hunger carried over the court, and he made sure the team got to have their celebratory dinner afterwards — and that his son got to celebrate the championship he wanted so badly in the prior game.
What made it all sweeter for them was how hard Rondo had to fight to make this happen. He broke his hand on his second day in the bubble and had to leave to have surgery and rehab, eventually returning to Orlando to work out with Lakers senior basketball advisor Kurt Rambis in an attempt to get in playoff shape. He had to leave his family — at least until his son arrived. All of it left no doubt in his mind where this championship ranks all time.
If there’s an asterisk on it, it’s a badge of honor, not a mark of shame.
“This one, by far, is the hardest one. Family is everything, and not being able to see your family for so long, it takes a toll on you mentally,” Rondo said. “We’re not eating normal food as far as our normal routine regiments. I didn’t eat today, so that was taking a toll on the mind and the body. Proper rest, not sleeping in your proper beds, on a certain schedule... Mentally this one was tough.
“But the time I did spend here, the best thing about it was just being with my teammates every day and winning. So it was an experience, once-in-a-lifetime, hopefully,” Rondo continued. “I wouldn’t trade it for nothing. It was all worth it at the end of the day. We all came here for a mission, and we accomplished it.”
Rondo played a big part in that with his play. He overcame injury and adverse circumstances to go from regular season scapegoat to arguably the greatest bench point guard in playoff history. He may be ready to put the bubble behind him, but he’s clearly happy he came.
“Regardless of how bad people may think it was, or it was actually, we got W, we got the chip. You can’t take it from us. We definitely earned it,” Rondo said.
He — and his teammates — certainly did.