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LeBron James (left) and Rajon Rondo of the Los Angeles Lakers exchange handshakes during a game against the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Oct. 31. Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images
As Told To

Naughty or nice? Rajon Rondo talks Rajon Rondo

The Lakers point guard reflects on his past, present and future in the NBA

While LeBron James was the marquee acquisition in L.A. this summer, the Lakers also turned heads by adding one of the league’s most intriguing love-hate players, Rajon Rondo. But the four-time All-Star has missed significant time this season. He was suspended three games for allegedly spitting on Chris Paul during the Rockets-Lakers scuffle on Oct. 21. He then sat out 17 games after suffering a broken hand on Nov. 14.

“It is all about perspective,” said Rondo. “There is a big difference between being out five to six weeks with a broken hand and being out five to six months after having ACL surgery. This last injury was a short period of time in my career. I had to be positive. I was still engaged, and traveling with the team helped that.”

Rondo, who returned to the lineup Dec. 21, said he is looking forward to playing on Christmas Day against the Golden State Warriors on prime time (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). He also took the time to reflect on his career with The Undefeated. Here are his reflections, as told to Marc Spears, on Kevin Garnett’s influence, being LeBron’s point guard, his exit from New Orleans, aspirations to be a general manager, and much more.

I don’t think the perception of me is amazing. I don’t think it’s great, you know, the player I am on the court. I am a competitive player. I don’t really go out there and try to be friends.

I look at it as going to war. When you go to war you don’t have friends. When I play, I play for my teammates. I play for my team. And I’m an emotional, passionate player. I play the game, and I want to win as much as possible, by any means necessary. So, from that aspect, I’ve got into it with a couple of referees. I don’t have any dirty plays. As for my reputation, it is what it is, whatever critics write or say about me, I don’t give two s—s as long as people around me understand where I come from and what I want to do for my family.

The perception of me on the court is probably, ‘He doesn’t do this, he doesn’t do that.’ But for the most part, I don’t have one teammate that complains about me. I’m a great teammate. I’m a great mentor. I’ve always been one of the biggest competitors that anybody can name. I love what I do. Regardless of what people think of me, I know my teammates think highly of me, and I like making the game fun for those guys, and I really love giving back because that’s what was given to me.

It was inspired from all the love that all my vets gave me. From KG [Kevin Garnett] to P.J. Brown to Paul Pierce, Marquis Daniels, Eddie House, Sam Cassell, Tyronn Lue. I always had great people that wanted the best for me. There was not a lot of jealousy, especially when I played.

When I would play well, Sam never wanted to take me out. Doc [Rivers] would tell Sam to go get me, but I remember a lot of times I’d be looking to the sidelines and Sam would be like, ‘You good?’ And I would be like, ‘Yeah,’ and he would just let me play. So it’s like that was instilled in me, and it was given to me. So that’s why when I’m in a situation like I am now, when Zo [Lonzo Ball] is out there doing his thing, it was only right for me to be happy for him and want the best for him because it was done to me the same way.

KG was the biggest influence in the game for me. He taught me how to be a professional. He said I would be an All-Star one day. He told me to always believe in myself and have that edge. I actually told that to Jimmy Butler. We had dinner, and I told him that KG once told me that what makes him great is he is part a–h— and he doesn’t take s— from anyone.

Rajon Rondo learned a lot from Boston’s Big Three.

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

If I didn’t get connected with Kevin, I don’t know where I would be in the league. I was in the deal to Minnesota in 2007. There were seven players. I saw my name on the ticker on the screen and said, ‘S—, it’s over.’ And that particular time I was ready to get out of Boston anyway because it was a miserable season. We lost 18 straight. I was playing behind two guys as the third-string point guard. I was ready to move on to a new chapter. I come to find out, he told the Celtics that he wanted me there. I’m sure [Celtics president] Danny Ainge loved me, but I think KG had a lot to do with me staying as a Celtic.

There was one play in particular that he saw. He was at home watching a game of me against the [New York] Knicks, and you have to get him as far as the quote, but he said, ‘I want the African guy to stay’ or something. Because of my name, he thought I was African. He’s a jokester. He’s the best teammate I’ve ever played with, hands down. He was the best power forward in the game, hands down, as far as what he brought to the team and assisting young players. That is why I am who I am. That is why I believe in giving back, because he paved the way for me.

“The basketball IQ I have been blessed with is a God-given ability. I can teach it all I want, but probably whoever I teach it to, you’re still gonna be steps behind.”

Paul Pierce showed me how to work. I would come in at night and think I’m there by myself, and Paul would be upstairs running on the treadmill. That showed his dedication as far as whether it was getting in shape or doing what he needed to do to be the best person he can be on the court. He’s definitely one of the great competitors. He’s probably part of the reason why I talk so much trash as well. I took a class at his university and Kevin’s university. It’s in me now.

I’ve been fortunate. I’ve played with so many great players. You know, probably at least 10 of the Top 50 greatest players in our game, especially in the last 20 or 30 years. I’m a sponge. I’m picking their brain as much as possible, learning, trying to understand how I can make the game easier for them. I love to try to help those guys be even greater or challenge them. If I’m not playing, I try to challenge them in different ways off the court. And guys of that type of caliber, you know, LeBron, Kevin, Paul, Ray [Allen], they’re so great. Little things, they probably get bored with the process. And despite all the challenges, as far as getting over the pick, or getting three blocks, or doing the intangibles they already know they can do, it’s just keeping ’em focused and locked in for a certain period of time.

The basketball IQ I have been blessed with is a God-given ability. I can teach it all I want, but probably whoever I teach it to, you’re still gonna be steps behind. It’s just a God-given ability, it’s experience. Just being around so many great basketball minds, dedication to the game and the effort I put into breaking other guys down, breaking other teams down. I always say it’s like finally figuring out the answer to the test, prepping for the test early, and then when you go into the test you ace it because you’re prepared for it.

Rondo denied spitting on Chris Paul (right) during a game on Oct. 20.

Prensa Internacional/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

It’s been amazing being with the Lakers. It’s a hell of an organization. They were the most persistent in free agency. They showed the most interest. They were the first team to call at midnight. The [New Orleans] Pelicans didn’t do that. Everybody with the Pelicans had my number.

Alvin Gentry, we spoke a lot throughout the summer. I have a lot of respect for Coach G. He gave me hope again that there were good coaches out there. I miss playing for him and miss the guys over there: A.D. [Anthony Davis], Jrue [Holiday], D-Mill [Darius Miller], Ian Clark, Niko [Mirotic]. We all still keep in touch. I wish them health and happiness. The Pelicans could have got a deal if they wanted me, but obviously they went in a different direction. They had money. But they didn’t want to sign ‘Cuz’ [DeMarcus Cousins] and they didn’t want to sign me.

The last couple of years, the Lakers have been calling. I had a meeting with them two years ago with the role to come here and back up Lonzo for a little bit less money. The following year it was the same thing. And with LeBron joining the team, it was a no-brainer. He didn’t call at all. But he didn’t have to call. He wanted me, obviously. The Lakers are not going to go get a point guard he doesn’t want. He had interviews in the playoffs where he talked about having a veteran guy he can trust with the ball. I feel like I am a great option for that situation.

I actually talked to Kendrick Perkins a little bit about LeBron before I signed with the Lakers. I remember in Game 7 of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals, when he came into the Garden and dropped 45, I knew we couldn’t pick on him anymore. He stepped up to the challenge. He put that team on his back in that game in particular and never looked back from that point on. I love competing against him, and we do it every day in practice. He’s a competitor. He wants to win everything he does, same way I do.

LeBron is a great teammate, and that may be overlooked. He’s also human. We all get frustrated at times, and that’s part of the game. What he does for these young guys is unbelievable. He leads by example every night. Well, not even every night — every day when he comes into the gym. He’s a workaholic. He’s very committed to his body. You read all the articles, but when you see it every day, it’s different. He really is dedicated to what he does. It’s the reason why he’s healthy. He puts in the work, and he deserves it. Look what he’s doing.

“I want to be a GM. I want to be a president. I want to put people in a position to be successful.”

LeBron’s mind is unbelievable too. I love to just kind of sit there and listen to him teach the young guys certain things, and I try to pick up things I can learn from him as well. Having a guy with that type of knowledge on the game is very helpful. Obviously, I respect his ability, his IQ, and a lot of times we’re on the same page. Sometimes I’ll look at it from his perspective and he’ll look at it from my perspective.

The young guys are great. They’re sponges. They want to learn. The camaraderie is getting better, and guys are more comfortable with each other. Guys are playing cards on the plane. A nice bottle of wine helps as well.

Me and Brandon Ingram are close. I know he has my back 100 percent. My dog. He is the first one I’m calling if I get into some s—. I got B.I. a little something after the suspensions but can’t really talk about it. A nice little parting gift. We chopped it up. We had dinner together. We got to converse a little bit more. He’s quiet. I’m quiet. He came over for dinner a couple of nights we had to sit out and we watched the game. Obviously, that bonded us a little bit more.

I love playing for Luke Walton. I am glad he was raised by some hippies. He has a chill, laid-back personality. I wasn’t raised by a hippie, but my mom was really reserved and quiet. There are a lot of similarities from that aspect. He’s a player-first coach. He’s not overbearing with his voice. He doesn’t talk all the time. I love how he uses his assistants to let them voice their opinion. And then when he needs to step in, he does. He reminds me of a way chiller Doc.

A father of two, Rondo has a big heart for helping the youth.

Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

I’ve had a hell of a journey. T-Lue used to always joke that he overachieved in life from where he came from and going to Nebraska. I feel the same way. I’ve always believed in myself, no matter what, going against the best. But people never counted on me to be that guy. I was the 21st pick. I’m hoping that I got like another seven or eight years to play.

It’s not definite that I want to be a coach one day. I want to be a GM. I want to be a president. I want to help people. I want to put people in a position to be successful and show them the ropes.

I mentored some kids in Chicago, and it really messed me up a little bit as far as what they go through. Having to get themselves up at the age of 12 and 13 years old and decide to go to school themselves because their parents are not forcing them. Or their parents are at work so they have to get themselves up and their younger siblings that are 8 or 9, get them dressed, feed them and have the incentive or have the drive to want to go to school every day.

So that’s the hard thing to swallow. I was blessed. I had an older brother and a mom that was there for me that could push me. Imagine having to be self-motivated at that age to go to school that you may be bullied at, or you may not have the nicest clothes. There’s a lot of obstacles that they face that people don’t have a clue what they go through because no one listens to their story. If you do mentor them, you’ll find out that we all need to pitch in some type of way to help these kids out.

My Assisting Youth Foundation started a couple years ago. That’s what I’m most passionate about next to my two kids: assisting young black men in my hometown in Louisville, helping them get ahead of the curve and then giving them every opportunity to get ahead. Expose them to certain things that a lot of kids aren’t exposed to. There’s not a professional team in my city. There’s not a lot of people to look up to as far as role models that they can see on TV, so I try to give those kids hope. That’s all it takes, is a little bit of hope and knowing that someone else cares about ’em. Giving them that extra push and challenging them. Giving them certain incentives to be great.

Life is very precious. I don’t take a day for granted being around people that I love. I reflect on that and how silly people can make certain situations. None of that s— matters, really. What matters is how you live life daily, how you approach it, and the people you care about dearly and how you feel about you.

I’m super blessed. It’s amazing from where I came from to be able to do what I do on a daily basis and be able to provide for an army with a lot of weight on my situation. But obviously, God won’t put you in a situation you can’t handle. Me being the person that I am, I am kind of the alpha dog in my family. I have to make sure I take care of them, not just financially but every way I can. I have a strong, strong family that supports me. I have people in my life that have been great that I can bounce ideas off of and give me great guidance. It’s a very humbling experience.

Fatherhood means everything. You know that’s my life right now, as far as my main focus and what’s most important to me in this world. Kids are everything. It’s my responsibility, obviously, to put them in the best position possible so when they get to be adults they can go out and take on the world as well.

I’m a pretty squeaky-clean guy off the court.

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.