In the self-centered worldview of a little brother, the big brother is the greatest athlete of all time. He is the first person to hit a jump shot, he can throw a ball farther than any person in the world, he is Usain fast. Obviously, the age discrepancy, the size advantage, the reps, and the extra brain wrinkles are responsible for big bro’s superiority. But there is an extra layer of arrogance; the older brother knows he is older and the thought of being supplanted as the family’s Jim Thorpe is simply unfathomable.
Year after year the little brother loses games of 21, gets pwned in wrestling matches, lapped in races, cries tears of frustration, and curses the unfairness of the universe.
Yet he doesn’t quit, because that’s not what little brothers do. He keeps coming, because sharing the court with his hero is the closest he can come to the perceived unrivaled stature.
And then (in most cases) the universe corrects itself – as far as the little brother is concerned.
Rajon Rondo’s ascension – to Celtic virtuoso, best point guard of 2012, toughest muthafucka in the playoffs, and future Hall-of-Famer – is a result of this correction. Rajon Rondo is as good as he is because of he’s the little brother, to Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce.
I have two younger brothers, Roosevelt Qu and Aurelius James. I used to play them one on two in basketball, soccer, swimming, and baseball. The result: a massacre, each and every time.
Nonetheless, I took Roosevelt and Aurelius everywhere with me; I made sure my friends let them play (largely because I am an overbearing prick). They were horrible, always getting burned, sometimes getting hurt, certainly never winning. On occasion they would cry.
But they also never stopped.
In the summer, we would ride to the nearby white (rich) neighborhood, where we would hop the fence and play in a real pool, not the above-ground bullshit we had in our hood. In the pool floated a basketball hoop where my brothers and I would play twenty-one, 1 on 2, and HORSE. OK, “play” isn’t the right word. I roasted my brothers in the pool just as I did on terra firma.
But then one summer, Aurelius dunked from inside the pool. None of us could dunk. None of us had even attempted a dunk. And from that moment on, everything was different. Aurelius had caught up.
The little brother complex instills recklessness, the belief that the unconventional route was the only way to compete. The little brother complex breeds a type of hopelessness that is required to attempt the unorthodox.
On a different and inimitable plane, that’s Rajon Rondo. He is unorthodox while playing the most orthodox position in the sport. He’s a point guard who fills up the stat sheet like a 6’7 swingman. He boasts hands so oversized that he is physically unable to become an elite shooter. But the same hands permit him to regulate the ball, the game, and his teammates in ways never before seen. Sentences describing Rondo’s game could be lifted verbatim and used to describe the perfection of composer Gustavo Dudamel.
Why? Because within the family structure that is the Boston Celtics, with Doc Rivers as Dad, the Big Three as the overbearing older brothers, the Ubuntu family slogan, and the dismissively callous Uncle Danny Ainge, Rondo has always been the youngest brother. The analogy extends even to Rondo’s treatment: He was the 21st pick in the ’06 draft, then he was traded. The same day the Celts traded for Rondo they also traded for the PG they hoped would be their 10-year starter, Sebastian Telfair. Rondo was the little brother before he was even part of the Celtics’ family.
The Personality and Social Psychology Review studied the little brother phenomenon. They analyzed the performance of 700 brothers who played Major League Baseball and found that the younger brothers were nuts.
Younger brothers are:
“more than ten times more likely to attempt the high-risk activity of base stealing”
“three times more likely to steal bases successfully”
“more likely to allow themselves to be hit by pitches to get on base”
All of this is because they have been relegated to a life in the established shadows which forces risk and a pursuit of an athletic terra nova where they can distinguish themselves and finally separate.
As biological examples, we have Blake Griffin, Jimmer Fredette, Eli Manning; all younger brothers who play a reckless, seemingly thoughtless style that was cultivated in backyards against their older and, at the time, better siblings.
Rondo’s big brothers are situational, of course, but those brothers treated him to the same heartlessness that is common to biological brother relations. Hell, even his “dad”, Doc Rivers deferred to the “big three” and was always hard on the “little brother.” To this day whenever Rondo makes a play that quite literally has never been performed on a court before, we see Garnett greet him with a half-loving, half-dismissive palm to the back of the head.
Just like most little brothers, Rondo found fuel in his big brothers’ bullying, found solace in their unity, and eventually surpassed everyone’s projections to become arguably the best point guard in the league, the unquestioned leader of the team, the pulse of the Celts, and one of the most innovative and unique players in the NBA.
And for this, he owes his big brothers. Just like Aurelius – and his two dozen full-ride athletic scholarship offers – owes me.
You’re welcome, little brother.
For more from Rosicky…
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