Rajon Rondo has admitted that he is not a student of basketball history. While some of his teammates take obvious pride in being associated with the storied Celtics franchise, Rondo reflects on the legends of yesteryear less often than, say, Kevin Garnett, who often mentions the names of past Celtics greats.
Rondo is also not one to count individual statistics. In that, at least, he and Garnett have something in common.
Yet Rondo was clearly pleased on Thursday when he was informed that he was the first Celtics player in 52 years to lead the league in assists, joining Hall of Fame point guard Bob Cousy, who led the league in the category for the eighth and final time of his career in 1959-60.
"It means a lot," Rondo said. "Cousy has always had great things to say about me. I would be honored if he could present me with a ball if I get one."
Players from 16 teams across the league are looking forward to the beginning of the playoffs this weekend, but in Boston, this time of year carries extra meaning. The Celtics' 17 championships give them the third-highest total in major North American sports, trailing only the New York Yankees' 27 World Series titles and the Montreal Canadiens' 24 Stanley Cups.
In the home locker room at the TD Garden, faded photos of Sam Jones, Bill Russell and Jo Jo White, as well as other players from the club's past, hang on the wall across from the bright prints of current players above each locker.
Even players who have only been with the team a short time are mindful of the history involved.
"If you are a Celtics fan, that's what you've been waiting for, the playoffs," said Mickael Pietrus, a veteran of three other NBA teams who is in his first season with the Celtics. "That's what they say they live for here. Every time you step on the floor in the playoffs, you've got to just respect that jersey, because a lot of players have been through the Celtics."
When seven members of the 1961-62 championship team — Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, Jones, Jim Loscutoff, Frank Ramsey, Russell and Satch Sanders — were honored during a halftime ceremony late in the season, Garnett gave several deep bows while the crowd granted the retired players a long ovation. It was not the first time Garnett has expressed admiration for the players of past generations, and it did not take much goading following that game to get Garnett to extol their contributions to today's sport.
"It's always great to see the foundation come back, to see why you do this and see how this thing was built," Garnett said. "I've always said those guys were the building blocks on which they built this organization, this great franchise. I'll always have a special place in my heart for guys who came before me, before us, because without those guys we'd have no idea or no road map of what you want to be. They set the standard which we play for and I'm glad to be a part of it."
Garnett returned to that theme this week when explaining how this year's team, which had a 15-17 record at the All-Star break, turned around its season to enter the playoffs as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
In Garnett's opinion, it began with pride.
"We're a very prideful team," Garnett said. "When you come in here and put on this jersey, there's a lot of responsibility that comes with that. We don't take that lightly in here."
For those associated with the Celtics franchise, history is not something that is studied. It is part of the team's fabric, and the playoffs are when the stories that matter are told.
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