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Rajon Rondo: ‘It’s been very emotional for me the last couple of days’

The Lakers guard opens up about the Breonna Taylor case in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Rajon Rondo sent his daughter, Ryelle, “gifts and love” from afar on Thursday for her 13th birthday. The Los Angeles Lakers guard told her on FaceTime that he would never miss her birthday again. He also decided to save his talk with his daughter about the Breonna Taylor news in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, for another day.

“It’s tough. My daughter turned 13 today. A young, innocent woman [Taylor] was in her bed … and the bullets get charged for going through a building for endangerment versus a person’s body that is not here anymore,” Rondo told The Undefeated after the Lakers’ 114-108 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.

“My daughter is very aware,” he continued. “She understands it. She’s 13. But this happened over the last 24 hours and I didn’t say much about it because today was her birthday. I stay high praising for her. But eventually, we will get to sit down and talk. Her mom is doing a heck of a job raising her and bringing to light what is going on. So, for me personally, as a dad, I didn’t want to harp on it being her birthday. A couple more days that it passes and we will see how she is feeling about it then.”

On Wednesday, one of three Louisville police officers who raided Taylor’s apartment, Brett Hankison, was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing into a neighbor’s apartment. But a grand jury decided not to move forward with charges against any of the officers for their roles in the death of Taylor. The ruling pained advocates hoping for justice for the 26-year-old African American woman, who was shot and killed on March 13.

The news hit Rondo, who is from Louisville’s West End, particularly hard.

“It’s been very emotional for me the last couple of days,” Rondo said. “I’m just trying to keep my mind busy. When I get some time to myself, it’s hard not to think about it. It’s my hometown. I have a daughter. Black women don’t have no value since [Black people] have been here [in America]. It’s hard, frustrating and hurtful. …

“It’s obviously over with the state, but the FBI is obviously doing an investigation. Hopefully, there will be a better outcome than there has been so far.”

Lakers star LeBron James said the players have offered support to Rondo, knowing he’s from Louisville.

“One thing, we wanted to be there for our brother, ‘Do [Rondo].’ As much as it’s devastating to us, you can only imagine it happening in your backyard,” James said. “Do being from Louisville, we knew how tough it had to be on his family and the locals there.”

There have been demonstrations in Louisville for two straight nights protesting the Taylor news. During Wednesday night’s protests, two Louisville police officers were shot. A suspect has since been arrested.

“After we get done protesting, we have to go to the boardroom,” Rondo said. “That is where change happens. … The change happens in the voting room. Now we got to make a difference by going to the boardrooms and understand what is happening in meetings, then make a change that way.”

Despite the Taylor news, Rondo is optimistic that positive change is coming to Louisville when Yvette Gentry becomes the city’s interim police chief on Oct. 1. The African American woman has more than 20 years of experience with the Louisville Metro Police Department, including serving as deputy chief before retiring in 2014. She will be Louisville’s third police chief since Taylor’s death. Coincidentally, Gentry is the executive director of the Rondo Foundation, Rondo’s charitable organization.

“I’m trying to stay strong and trying to make a difference,” Rondo said. “My lady that runs my foundation now is about to take over as police chief. I’m just talking with her daily to continue to bring awareness and tackle and hold these people accountable. … I’m becoming more confident in the future because who is in position. I have a lot of confidence in Yvette Gentry. …

“We have been trying to make change since the beginning when we began collaborating with my foundation the last two years. Now we have to get behind the mayor, the rest of the state and government officials.”

On Thursday night, Rondo was able to be a leader for the Lakers on the court as well. He had 11 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench in the Game 4 win. He also moved to eighth place on the NBA’s all-time playoff assist list, passing Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen. The 14-year veteran has averaged 7.5 points, 8.3 assists and 3.0 rebounds in the Western Conference finals.

James sang Rondo’s praises after the game.

“He’s played at the highest level, and he’s someone that we can trust,” James said of Rondo, who won a championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008. “In the postseason, every possession is so important. When you can have guys that have been in the moments and can understand and also be able to make adjustments on the fly, and know that you can count on them down the stretch, it just makes the team and you individually feel so much more confident in the outcome. Ever since he got back from injury and we saw this playoff run, he’s been exceptional.”

The Lakers can advance to the 2020 NBA Finals with one more win against the Nuggets. The 34-year-old Rondo relishes the opportunity to win another championship before he retires.

“That is why I am still in this league,” Rondo said. “Obviously, I am not out here for a check. I want to win. I want that feeling again. … My kids seeing me win at an age where they understand the game now. That is the biggest goal, to win with a great group of guys. You definitely don’t take that for granted.

“I’ve won with a great group of [Celtics] guys that I won with in the past. We’re still friends to this day. Still brothers to this day. Now, hopefully we can do it again with another championship.”

Rondo said his son, Rajon Rondo Jr., is quarantining and should be entering the bubble soon. If the Lakers make the NBA Finals, Rondo also hopes that his brother William, will be able to attend games again. William Rondo, who oversees all the barbers, hair braiders, hair stylists and manicurists in the bubble, has not been to a Lakers game since having words with Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook during the Lakers’ series-ending Game 5 victory in the Western Conference semifinals on Sept. 12.

Said Rondo of his brother, whom he has called his “rock” in the bubble: “He better be there.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.