Better Call Rondo


Rajon Rondo parked next to the curb in front of the house. He placed his cellphone in the mailbox. He approached the front door. A man at the window pulled back a curtain. “What the hell?” he asked. He walked into the kitchen. He checked the calendar on the wall. The doorbell rang. He turned away from the calendar. He undid the reluctant deadbolt and twisted the key on the other lock. He opened the door just enough to expose the narrow width of his face. “Shouldn’t you be in Chicago right now? Y’all are playing Portland.”

“I got suspended.”

“Rajon, man.” He shook his head and turned away from the door. Still, he had left it open and a wedge of light slipped into the foyer’s shadowy confines. He could hear Rondo following him; his former understudy wiped his feet on the welcome mat.

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The man walked into his living room and sat on the couch. He pulled a blanket around his shoulders.

“Is that to keep out the electricity?” asked Rondo. “I noticed you don’t have the heat on either because of, you know, your condition.” He hugged these last couple words with his fingers in the shape of quotation marks.

The older man didn’t answer, but he thought to himself, Is this youngin’ serious—it’s Milwaukee in winter.

“I left my phone in the mailbox in case you’re wondering.”

The older man wasn’t. “You know it’s cold outside, right?”

This time Rondo didn’t answer. He just looked around the room like a kid trapped inside a china cabinet.

“What do you need, Rajon?”

“I don’t need anything per say. I just, well, I was just wondering if you could offer some advice, seeing as how you’re an expert on the law and such.”

The man didn’t know what the hell Rondo was talking about: the law and such?

“Kevin, you’ve been traded before, right?”


“Well, how did you get traded from an also ran to a contender?”

“You want out of Chicago already?”

“Well, Kevin, it’s just that—”

“Rajon, man, it’s only been a couple months. Have you talked to D-Wade or Jimmy?”

“I’m Jimmy, Kevin.”


“Nothing. I’m just . . . it’s not the right fit . . . um . . . it’s like trying to fit a really big Slurpee cup into a cup holder that’s too small.”

The older man reflected on the analogy. “Hate to break it to you, Rajon, but I don’t think you’re the biggest Slurpee cup in Chicago.”

Rondo snickered. “Yeah, and you weren’t the biggest Slurpee cup in Minnesota last year!”

“I wasn’t.”

Rondo didn’t respond.

“I didn’t even start. They have a guy named Towns.”

“You want me to make you some tea? I could make you a cup of tea.”

“I don’t drink tea.” The older man stared at his former teammate, attempting to understand him, but failing. “Rondo, man, why are you here?”

“I told you—I want to be on a contender.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

“Don’t you have some contacts? Can’t you call up Doc or Pierce for me?”

“They have CP3, Rondo.”

“What about the Spurs? You’re old—you have to know somebody on the Spurs!”

The older man pulled the blanket tighter about his shoulders.

“How about the Warriors?”


“Okay,” said Rondo, growing more and more desperate. “Could you call Ainge for me? Maybe I can go back to Boston.”

“Maybe you should make that tea, Rajon.”

“But I thought you said you don’t drink it.”

“I don’t. But, man! You gotta do something to take the edge off.”

“I could be a Buck. How ‘bout it? You on the bench and me on the court. It would be as close to old times as two guys like us can get.”

“I’m not with the team in that sort of capacity. I go in sparingly. Besides, how alike are we?”

Rondo looks at his old teammate with a sense of hurt.

“We’re brothers.”

“Yeah, but that don’t make us the same. Get your head right.” And, making a fist, the older man tapped knuckles on his pulsing temple and flared his nostrils.

“Look, if it’s not true, it’s not true. There’s no use in pretending.” Rondo started for the door.

“I never pretend,” said the man with the blanket round his shoulders.

“Yeah, and the game’s not about filling up a stat sheet.”

“It’s not, Rajon. If it’s just that, well, then it’s all for naught.”

Frustrated, Rondo grumbled, “You sound like a lawyer,” and skulked towards the door. He placed on hand on the knob, raised his chin, and offered his farewell: “I guess I’ll be seeing you.” His breath hung in the air like a fog. He walked out.

Rising from the couch and leaving the blanket on the cushions, Kevin Garnett watched his former teammate wade across the yard, remove his keys from the mailbox, and drive down the road. Then he flicked on all the lights in the house and turned on the heat. He had grown cold pretending Rajon was something other than Rondo.

He hung the jerseys on the rack in his locker. One was red. Another was blue. One was purple. Another was blue. He had a green one too. He stepped back and admired the rainbow. The idea had struck him while sitting at a red light on the way back from visiting Garnett at his Milwaukee lake house. He looked out the window and watched an inflatable tube man dance in the Midwest wind blowing through a Midwest parking lot. He observed the serpentine movements and thought, “I know what Jimmy would do.” And so Rajon Rondo had shown up at the United Center with every jersey he’d ever worn, dating back even to his college days.

He made his decision: he chose the green jersey and the shorts to match. He pulled them on over his casual attire, as if a basketball jersey belonging to one of his current team’s rivals were simply another tacky Christmas sweater. Then he lifted the duffle bag that sat beside his feet and made for the team’s Christmas party elsewhere in the building.

When he walked in, everyone was there. Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler each dressed like competing GQ models. Bobby Portis, Doug McDermott, and Michael Carter-Williams all wore Christmas sweaters. Robin Lopez wore the tackiest, and Nikola Mirotic looked like a young Santa, with a red hat drooping over his head. Most of the team’s executives were gathered around Bill Murray, who was deadpanning jokes about the Bears and Bulls being cursed franchises because neither had won a championship this century. He wrapped his ageless humor in a Cubs jersey.

Rondo made for the center of the room and dropped the duffle bag by his feet, just as it had been in the locker room. He surveyed the room again. He wanted to make sure all the coaches were in the vicinity before continuing with his plan.

Yes, he saw them all, and seeing them all, he unzipped the duffle bag and pulled out his weapon of choice: bagpipes.

He held the bag in his right arm, with the three drones leaning against his shoulder. He placed the blowpipe in his mouth. He started to blow. The bag puffed up with air. Faint musical notes escaped the drones and lost themselves quickly in the room’s holiday cheer. But hearing his cue, Rondo tapped the bag and its three accompanying drones into position. He then started to blow and didn’t stop, letting his fingers dance on the chanter. The wailing sounds of his frustration poured out from the drones and filled the room. He didn’t know if anyone noticed or not. His eyes were closed tight, and all he could hear was that screaming sound of sheep being murdered. He blew and blew. When his lungs ran out of air, he blew some more. He didn’t let his fingers stop. He played notes he had no hope in recognizing. Maybe it was a song. Maybe it wasn’t. All he could hear was the banshee of his emotional clock. And then he made the fatal mistake of letting the blowpipe slip from his lips.

In the glowing afterhum of his reckoning, he heard a single clap. Then a voice of a man who can appreciate the talent and effort it takes to be so obdurately obnoxious said, “I’ll take it from here, kid,” and, in no time at all, Bill Murray was leading the whole room in a series of Christmas songs. When everyone, including Wade and Butler to Gar Forman and Fred Hoiberg to even Jerian Grant and Jerry Reinsdorf, locked arms and started singing “Auld Lang Syne,” Rondo released all the remaining hot air form his bag and whispered to himself, “what the hell?” Then he dropped the pipes on the duffel bag and skulked out of the room somehow defeated in having helped bring the room even more together than it already had been.

As he walked out into the cold Chicago air, the United Center rose up behind him, and he stopped in front of a statue shaped like a shoe logo. He looked at the bronze figure’s bald crown. He looked at the sinew and bone and muscle always rising. He almost grimaced at the immutable energy of it, when he had another brilliant idea. Tomorrow he would show up for work, walk into his Airness’ throne room, sit for as long as it took, and not flush the toilet when he was done. Surely they couldn’t ignore that. Surely the smell alone might send him on his way. He would be a champion again soon enough. That was most definitely for sure.

Now, would it be better to call Garnett before or after he was done? Then he remembered how his brother didn’t use phones because of the electromagnetic waves and so Rondo climbed in his car once more and started driving for the lake house at Delphi.