It's been 3 years since the Celtics championship run in 2008, and still, to this day, if I allow myself to think about Game 1 of the Finals when Paul Pierce went down with a knee injury, I cry. I can still see him crumpled on the floor, face contorted with agony. My mind went to the worst of places right away- that it was season ending, that after years of playing on horrible Celtics teams his Championship aspirations were being stomped out with the finish line finally in sight. And then, minutes later, I can still see him running back through the tunnel, his face a mask of bravery, zoned in and ready to go.
And now, thanks to Rondo's staggering show of courage and dedication last night, I have no doubt that I have another memory which will bring me to tears in the blink of an eye. To see him on the floor, with KG hovered over him in a state of panic, my mind again was off to the races. I feared that this was the end of his season: that a season filled with nagging and painful injuries, a season filled with many doubting his commitment and ability, and a 3 year long fight to get back to the top would end with him on the floor, out of breath and writhing in pain. But it didn't. I allowed my frustration and disappointment in the 2-0 series to taint my vision. I forgot that this was Rondo- a 6 foot nothing soldier who's played through plantar fasciitis, a balky back, hand injuries that made his hands throb and feel arthritic and countless other unnamed injuries that remain anonymous because he refuses to use them as excuses.
So of course he went back to the locker room, had his elbow popped back in to place and returned to action. When I saw him trot back to the bench, I felt so lucky. People accuse athletes of being overpaid, egotistical and so consumed with their fame that they don't care about the sport. That's just not the case with this team. Rondo recently inked a 55 million dollar deal. Many other superstars with similar monetary success would be worried about next year- I dislocated my elbow, what happens if I try to keep playing, further injure myself and that effects next year? What about my endorsements? What about my next contract? Rondo isn't worried about next year. He's not looking past this series- he's not even looking past the current game. He has no summer plans. He wants to win. And a fan that's emotionally invested and all consumed by this team, I feel so lucky to have players on my favorite team who make it worth it. If Rondo can play with one arm and tell everyone that he's going to continue playing and not to ask him how he's feeling, even if he's holding his arm- then I certainly am not giving up on this team. We're even more lucky. It isn't just Rondo. It's Delonte, rising and rising again after injuries continue to pile up around him. It's Paul Pierce, playing an a strained foot and diving in to the stands, Jermaine O'Neal coming back from a knee surgery and Shaq giving all he can with his body fiercely protesting. I could go on and on. This team has resolve. They're still down 2-1, and there's a long way to go... But like KG said: I'm all in.