Rajon Rondo and the NBA’s Cultural Problem

Hello, it’s me, how are you? It’s been a whole 26 days since your eyes and my writing have been together. But wait no longer, my loyal reader, for I have returned. And what has drawn me out of my writing slumber? The cultural issues of basketball.

About 2 weeks ago, on December 3rd, the Boston Celtics defeated the Sacramento Kings 114-97. Within that game was the storyline of Kings’ guard Rajon Rondo returning to Boston, the city where he played his first 8 NBA seasons.

Without knowing any other background, one can reasonably infer that Rondo’s emotions would be quite high. And one would be spot on in conjecturing such, as Rondo was given a technical foul by referee Bill Kennedy.

Rondo then proceeded to get right in Kennedy’s face and presumably say some not so nice things. Kennedy then ejected Rondo, Rondo left the court, and that was that. So why am I devoting an article to this? Because what Rondo said to Kennedy reflects a much bigger problem in the NBA that is deeply rooted in the overall culture of basketball and really needs to be changed.

Kennedy publicly announced, just a few days ago, that he is gay, effectively becoming the first referee in any of the 4 primary North American professional sports to come out as publicly gay. And while the sports world applauded and came together surrounding Kennedy, as they tend to do nowadays, the news took a horrific turn.

Rondo was suspended 1 game by NBA commissioner Adam Silver for making “homophobic remarks” towards Kennedy. I was genuinely disgusted.

Rajon Rondo - Bill Kennedy
Photo by Rich Pedroncelli for AP

Rondo has always been known as a complicated personality, a guy who is “too smart for his own good” according to Fox Sports’ Kristine Leahy. But there are a lot of things wrong with what happened here.

First off, Rondo could not be more out of line here. He has denied that he knew Kennedy was actually gay, but either way, using the word that I’m presuming he used to insult someone is just not okay in any circumstance. Whether or not that was a heat of the moment thing doesn’t matter to me and it shouldn’t matter to anyone else.

It’s really dumb to me that the excuse of, “Oh it was just a heat of the moment thing and doesn’t reflect my true views” is given a pass every single time by members of the media. When you’re angry, you often do really mean what you say, and that excuse is tired and poor and I’m not letting Rondo off the hook with this one.

If he had said something insulting the call – “that’s a bullshit call, ref – that just somehow seems way more acceptable to me. But attacking Kennedy personally crosses a line for me and reflects a greater issue within the culture of basketball.

Unlike any other sport, basketball is known for its trash talking nature. It’s a tightly contested sport between a bunch of highly competitive athletes who are consistently near each other; trash talk is bound to happen and it does in spades. But trash talk, to me, has become less about getting into your opponents head to gain an advantage, and more about just flat out insulting them and dragging them so far down, mentally, that they don’t play to the level they are capable of.

The end result is the same in both circumstances, but the method of getting there is much different. As Rondo demonstrated in his “heat of the moment” homophobic remarks towards Kennedy, trash talk is getting personal.

When asked about it, legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he wasn’t surprised at all. “You see it all the time…it’s unfortunate and disgusting. Bill is a great guy and a class act, on and off the court. To act in a derogatory way toward anybody in the LGBT community doesn’t make sense. But surprised? Of course not.”

Gregg Popovich
Photo courtesy of AP

That’s messed up. Considering how hard certain groups of people have had to fight to attain even a semblance of equality it disgusts me that derogatory remarks towards those in the LGBT community – among others – are still second nature to some.

And considering that Pop says that things like this happen “all the time” it tells me that this is a cultural issue within basketball. As I mentioned earlier, the trash talking nature of the sport has been carried too far to me and needs to change. Trash talk about your opponent’s game is cool and I’m not saying that’s what needs to go, but the homophobic slurs and the personal attacks within that trash talk have to go.

Lastly, Jalen Rose – a notorious trash talker if there ever was one – recently said that “not enough has been made about Rondo’s homophobic comments.” If freaking Jalen Rose takes issue with Rondo’s comments, then we all should be too. Change trash talking, make basketball a more inclusive sport, and watch it grow internationally.

Thanks for reading…


Rajon Rondo and the NBA’s Cultural Problem