An excerpt of Jackie MacMullan‘s forthcoming biography of Shaquille O’Neal , entitled “Shaq Uncut,” provides some insight into why Rajon Rondo  may have struggled after the trade of his close friend and Celtics  teammate Kendrick Perkins  — and the reason will come as a surprise.
According to the excerpt, published by SLAM Online , a joke by President Barack Obama during a fundraiser on March 8 at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts may have sent Rondo into a tailspin. Here’s the passage in its entirety:
“In early March some of the guys went to the museum of Fine Arts for a fund-raiser and got to hang with President Barack Obama. Everyone was a little bit in awe. The President turns to Ray [Allen], points at Rondo, and says, ‘Hey, Ray, why don’t you teach this kid how to shoot?’ Everyone starts laughing …
“KG [Kevin Garnett ] told me he saw the look on Rondo’s face and the kid was devastated, embarrased. Dissed by the President, even though I’m sure Obama didn’t mean any harm. Rondo smiled and went along with all of it, but KG told me he could see it in his eyes. It bothered Rondo. It killed him.
“The next day Rondo shot the ball horribly. He stopped taking shots after that. He’s so sensitive. I think it was a real jolt to hear the outside perception of a basketball fan who happens to be the President of the United States. It messed with his mind. I’m sure of it.”
Rondo shot 6-for-15 in a 108-103 loss to the Clippers the following night, totaling 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. In the 12 games during the month of March after the Obama incident, Rondo averaged 9.6 points (on 53-of-132 shooting for a 40.2 FG%), 7.9 assists and 4.2 rebounds.
That’s not so bad, but consider the fact that Rondo averaged 12.3 points (on 48.3 percent shooting), 10.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds in February. However, his field goal attempts actually increased from February (10.7 per game) to the aftermath of the Obama meeting (11.0 per game over the next 12).
Regardless of what the numbers say, anyone who watched the Celtics  this past season knows Rondo passed up easy shots a frustrating number of times, but didn’t most of those failures come around the rim? Also, there’s the chance that Rondo’s field goal attempts increased in order to prove Obama wrong — hence the lower field goal percentage, since he actually isn’t a great outside shooter.
It’s impossible to say whether Shaq and Garnett’s speculation about how Obama’s comments sent Rondo into a tailspin are grounded in reality or not, it sure is a fun debate. If Obama’s goal was to get inside Rondo’s head while the Celtics collapse down the stretch and his beloved Bulls capture the No. 1 seed with MVP Derrick Rose  leading the way, mission accomplished. And maybe it will motivate Rondo to work on his jump shot that much more this offseason.
As for that offseason, what a long, strange trip it’s been for Rondo — and it’s far from over. As I keep saying, we may have learned more about Rondo in the last few months than we did in his first few years as a member of the Celtics. In case you missed it — and before we get into his second exhibition game against the Dominican national team — here’s the quick rundown:
- July 14: Rondo hosted his annual basketball camp in his hometown of Louisville , Ky., revealing to reporters : ‘I’m still in a little bit of pain right now, but the swelling is down. The only thing is there’s swelling in my joint. I’ll be fine, it just takes time. I’ve got a couple more weeks that I’m off.’
- July 26: Rondo told Yahoo! Sports  the Celtics let the Perkins trade affect them too much.
- July 27: We discovered evidence of Rondo’s healing elbow  during his Las Vegas vacation.
- July 28: We learned Rondo will be playing in an August 15 exhibition game  against the Dominican Republic national team.
- July 29: University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari alerted us  that Rondo will enroll at the school in order to practice and help coach the team along with fellow Wildcats John Wall  and Eric Bledsoe.
- July 31: Rondo attended Patriots training camp  and shared some time with head coach Bill Belichick , nose tackle Vince Wilfork  and recently acquired wide receiver Chad Ochocinco .
- Aug. 2: Rondo and Red Bull presented Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino a check for $76,500 to upgrade the city’s basketball courts. There, he revealed to ESPN.com  that he has full range of motion in the elbow and the Celtics veterans may organize group workouts if the NBA lockout lingers.
- Aug. 13: While in Texas for Kendrick Perkins‘ summer camp, Rondo told reporters  that he set Oct. 1 as the decision deadline for whether or not he’ll play overseas during the NBA lockout. Also, Rondo was reportedly not at the club when Perkins was arrested for public intoxication .
- Aug. 15: Rondo wore No. 9 while playing for a team  of University of Kentucky alums in the first of two exhibition games against the Dominican national team. His team lost, 106-88.
- Aug. 16: Rondo played the second exhibition game, which leads us to …
In Rondo’s postgame press conference  at the KFC Yum Center (yup, you read that right) in Louisville, Ky., he had this to say about the NBA lockout:
“Right now, we’re preparing as if it is a regular season. We’ve been working out together a little bit, trying to stay ready, stay in shape and get better for next year. It hasn’t officially started as far as the checks stopping coming in, but it’s just day-to-day right now. We just go with the flow really. There’s nothing we can do really right now. It’s just a matter of waiting for both sides to come to an agreement. That’s just what it is right now.”
He steered away from comments made by fellow former Wildcat and NBA player Nazr Mohammed, who said, “I’m pretty pessimistic agreement about it. … In my mind, the owners are prepared to miss games and save money. … I’m preparing for the season, but I think we’re going to miss some games. We’ll see what happens.” Why don’t you tell us what you really think, Nazr?
Highlights of the UK pros’ second straight loss to the Dominican national team can be seen here  (to see just how well Rondo is feeling, see the layup at the 1-minute mark and the pass at the 1:15 mark), but what Rondo’s NBA teammates had to say  may have been more interest:
- Wizards point guard John Wall : “Rondo and them, they were talking the entire game. We were all taking it seriously, they were just telling us different stuff and keys that we can take through the offseason and on to the season.”
- Clippers point guard Eric Bledsoe: “Rondo talking in the huddle, he pretty much had it in order ‘¦ and tried to lead the team. That’s good for a point guard so I tried to pick up on it.’
- Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins : ‘When we were in practice, of course you know me, John and Eric were goofing around. Tayshaun [Prince], Rondo and Keith [Bogans], they just had a seriousness about them. They were joking around with us, but you could see the separation in experience between me, John and Eric and the rest of the guys.’
Nice to see Rondo commands respect and exudes leadership even among some pretty talented young NBA players. As for Rondo himself, he added:
- On the atmosphere: ‘It was definitely breathtaking. I haven’t been back here in five or six years, to get the same reception is wonderful but all the guys that played [got the same reception]. I’m just very glad to be back and very appreciative of the fans and the support they [gave] throughout our careers.’
- On playing with Wall: ‘It was fun. He’s an exciting player to play with and watch, so I guess a lot of people anticipated us playing together. We just went out there, tried to have fun and tried to win, but obviously we didn’t come up with the victory.’
With the almost daily updates from his offseason, what are we going to learn about Rondo next?