Rajon Rondo was an essential member of the Boston Celtics when they blew out the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals to win the franchise’s record-setting 17th championship. Twelve years later, he played a similar role in leading the Lakers to their 17th title in a blowout Game 6 against the Miami Heat.
In between, Rondo was a mixed bag of brilliance and shortcomings. But with a second title, according to Basketball Reference’s Hall of Fame Probability metric, the likelihood of his Springfield enshrinement rose from roughly 40 to 60 percent. Only six players eligible for the Hall — Chris Bosh, Larry Foust, Chauncey Billups, Shawn Marion, Amar’e Stoudemire and Larry Costello — have higher probabilities. Four were first-time nominees this year, when the committee limited NBA player finalists to Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, and the other two retired more than a half-century ago. In other words, Rondo has a shot.
In the four-plus years between winning a title as a 22-year-old point guard in his second season and tearing his right ACL in January 2013, Rondo was a four-time All-Star, four-time All-Defensive selection, two-time assists leader and the 2010 steals leader. His lone All-NBA appearance came on the Third Team in 2012, when he was the best player on a team that featured Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, making its third Eastern Conference finals appearance in a five-year stretch that fell six minutes short of a second title.
We should probably mention that Rondo played 12 minutes on his torn ACL and wanted to compete in his next game before an official diagnosis, two years after winning a playoff game with a hyperextended elbow.
Rondo was playing the best basketball of his career when he suffered the knee injury at age 26 and never reached that level again, despite leading the league in assists again in 2016 and finishing in the top seven on two more occasions. That alone is not a Hall of Fame résumé. Just ask Penny Hardaway, whose knee derailed a four-year peak that included a third-place MVP finish and a pair of First Team All-NBA selections.
Or ask Tim Hardaway, the six-time All-Star who believes his homophobic comments in 2007 are to blame for his absence from the Hall. Rondo’s own slurs all but forced referee Bill Kennedy to come out as gay in 2015.
That is far from the only strike against Rondo’s candidacy. He stopped playing defense in Boston, earning a trade to Dallas, where a run-in with Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle got him benched in the playoffs. Clashes with coaches and teammates led to one-year stays in Sacramento and Chicago, before Rondo resurrected his career as a passing partner to Anthony Davis — first in New Orleans and now with LeBron James in L.A.
In the five seasons between tearing his ACL and winning a title as a 34-year-old, Rondo was nowhere near a Hall of Famer. He never sniffed an All-Star selection. In a league full of flourishing shoot-first point guards, his inconsistency — both from distance and at a free-throw line he often feared — nearly led to his exile.
But Rondo has what neither Hardaway does: an impenetrable playoff track record of success. The “Playoff Rondo” moniker is not mythology. He meets the moment in the biggest of games, largely because his ability to outthink opponents increases his effectiveness when afforded the opportunity to break down a series.
Rondo’s stat line in Game 6 against the Lakers in 2008 — 21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and six steals — has never been replicated in the Finals. He outplayed James in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals and may well have been the Finals MVP that year had the Celtics emerged victorious. Rondo’s 44 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in a Game 2 loss to James’ Heat in the 2012 conference finals is one of the great forgotten games in playoff history. He had the Bulls on the verge of a first-round upset of top-seeded Boston before suffering a series-ending thumb injury in 2017. And he successfully steered the Pelicans to one of the most thorough first-round upsets in playoff history, a 2018 sweep of the Trail Blazers.
Then, there’s this season, when Rondo was arguably the third-most important player behind James and Davis on the Lakers, culminating in his 19 points on 11 shots in a close-out Game 6 victory over the Heat. He became the first player ever to win titles in Boston and Los Angeles and the second to win with the Celtics and Lakers, joining ex-Minneapolis center Clyde Lovellette, a four-time All-Star and Hall of Famer.
In total, Rondo has averaged 13.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, nine assists and 1.8 steals over 121 career playoff games. The only other player to average a 13-5-9 for his playoff career: Magic Johnson. Rondo is now sixth in playoff career assists behind Johnson, James, John Stockton, Jason Kidd and Tony Parker — all either Hall of Famers or locks. Rondo could rise to fourth with two more playoff runs like the one he just logged.
Rondo’s 7,215 career assists during the regular season rank 15th in history. Every eligible player ahead of him is in the Hall of Fame, save for Mark Jackson, Andre Miller and Rod Strickland, who have one All-Star appearance and zero rings between them. There is no other candidate like Rondo, fitting for a player whose skillset and personality could never neatly be put into a box score. He is one of the most brilliant passers in NBA history and one of the game’s great minds. There is a reason James sought him out for this title run.
“Being able to see how defenses are playing, seeing how the game is being played, seeing how the flow of the game is being played, there’s just not many guys that can do that in our league,” James told reporters midway through this title run. “In the postseason, it’s gigantic. Having [Rondo] on your side definitely helps.”
His career averages — 10.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game — do not scream Hall of Fame, but stats cannot capture Rondo’s contribution to the NBA. If they must, consider that only seven others have averaged a 10-4-8 for their careers: Oscar Robertson, Chris Paul, Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Ben Simmons. And Rondo now has as many rings as six of them combined.
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