It started before college during AAU play, but the fact Rajon Rondo went to Kentucky and Joakim Noah enrolled at bitter SEC rival, Florida, certainly didn’t help what became a colossal acrimony between the two NBA players. Then the 2009 first round Celtics-Bulls playoff battle – with all it’s back-and-forth jawing, physical play and overtime sessions â€” confirmed that Rondo and Noah had become two opposing forces of equal magnitude destined for beef. But now, after 10 years in the NBA and the maturity that ensued, the fire between the pair has cooled â€” at least a little.
The blaze between the two competitors calcified into hatred during that 2009 first-round playoff series, but the Bulls center and Celtics point guard now have a mutual respect that can only come when two competitors recognize a little of themselves in each other.
They share the same agent, Bill Duffy, and the fires that raged between the two since college have been replaced by a lukewarm esteem that came to the forefront during the Bulls-Celtics home-and-home to end the month of March.
Via Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald:
“We have the same agent, and it’s interesting,” Noah said. “I always ask my agent, how is Rajon? How is he? We don’t really have that conversation with each other. I’m sure it will happen one day. As you get older you realize you can compete and still have respect for your opponent.”
There are still limits. Rondo hasn’t gone soft on a Gator, and especially not that Gator.
“We’re not friends. No. He’s not on my team,” said Rondo, channeling his attitude guru, Kevin Garnett, still the best-known Noah hater in the league. “We have respect for each other. We’ve both accomplished things in this league, we’re both competitors, we love to win and hate to lose.
“But you play against somebody for 10 years, you probably won’t like the guy.”
Rondo took a first-quarter gig as a color commentator in Chicago this weekend to occupy another absentia on the second night of back-to-backs â€” to the delight of Benny the Bull. During his impromptu time behind the mic, Rondo was surprisingly complimentary of Noah during an on-air anecdote about the Bulls center:
But grudges can be tiring, too. That’s why Rondo summed up his on-air story by telling CSN announcer Mike Gorman that there wasn’t a “beef.”
“It was here in Chicago,” Rondo later said of the peace summit. “We’re always into it. I’ll elbow him, he’ll knee me, something crazy in a game we both feed off of. So we were at the free throw line one game and we asked each other, ‘Why do we go at it so hard?’ But that’s the way it should be. You compete against your opponent.
“What he does at this level isn’t easy,” Rondo said. “To put up those numbers every night while (Derrick) Rose goes down and (Luol) Deng gets traded â€” he’s the general of that team right now. They go as he goes. Besides LeBron (James) and (Kevin) Durant, he has to be up there as an MVP candidate.”
But one is still a Gator and other is a Wildcat, something that’s buttressed by both school’s appearance in this weekend’s Final Four. Still, Noah appreciates the body of work Rondo has put together since coming out of Kentucky in 2006:
“I really didn’t like him because he played for Kentucky and I played for the Gators,” Noah said. “At the end of the day there’s no Gator who’s going to like a Wildcat. That’s the way we were raised. We’ve been rivals since we were kids.
“But I got to come in the league and see his body of work, everything he brought to the table â€” the championship with the Celtics, playing hurt, that elbow injury, those are all things you look at as a competitor and appreciate. That’s why I have the utmost respect for him.”
Noah’s final words on the matter should be a lesson to any warring faction, be it the Shepherdson’s and Grangerfords of Mark Twain‘s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or college rivals like Florida and Kentucky; hate can recede with age and the proper perspective:
“At the end of the day you learn that as much hate, as any of the bad things as I might have said to him on the court, as you get older you realize how much respect you have for guys like that, too,” Noah said. “You just realize that when you get older. You don’t really hate anybody.”
Still, don’t count on any Zeke-Magic kissing before the next Celtics-Bulls slugfest.
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