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His face was stoic as he casually walked up the floor toward the massive electric blue Dallas Mavericks logo in the center of the court. Nonchalantly, he handled the ball with his left hand while raising his right, all the while ignoring the suited man scrambling to get his attention on the sideline.

Rajon Rondo made not even the slightest indication that he heard the man, his team’s head coach, Rick Carlisle, as he continued to proceed up the floor without interruption. A timeout was called and the feud between the two men that followed was one of the first of many dominoes to fall in the public eye.

Welcome to the birth of an NBA villain origin story.

This was one of the scenes from an otherwise unremarkable Mavs’ victory over the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 24, 2015. But the sequence of events it touched off was rather remarkable. There were verbal fights, locker room tension that boiled over onto the court, and then the famous “back injury” Rondo sustained during the first round of the playoffs two months later.

Before Game 3 against the Houston Rockets, Carlisle was asked, point blank, if Rondo would ever wear a Dallas uniform again.

It was a question that Carlisle didn’t allow to hang in the air. It was instantaneous and hit the target with a sense of brutality so raw, the answer didn’t even echo throughout the wide corridor of the event level of the arena: “No, I don’t.”

Fans didn’t forget.

Playoff Rondo

Now, some six years later, the crowd is no longer at the feet of the 35-year-old point guard. Instead, they jeered him with a fervor usually reserved for Dwyane Wade, circa 2006. Rondo, now donning a Los Angeles Clippers colors, is still a playoff problem for the Mavs.

When Rondo picked up his second foul with 10:25 left in the first half of Sunday night’s pivotal Game 4, the sellout crowd of 17,761 made their allegiance known. Other than the vocal displeasure of the Mavs’ loyal fanbase, one thing was clear: Rondo was an issue whenever he took the floor.

Mentally, that is.

As if matching the energy of the crowd, Rondo has been extremely vocal in his typical “on-the-court” coaching with teammates and has proven to be a thorn in Luka Doncic’s side during both of Dallas’ home games, especially during the Clippers 106-81 Game 4 victory. While Rondo finished with seven points, five rebounds and a team-high four assists, it was that triple-digit basketball IQ< that was once again on display.

After the Mavs nabbed Game 2 on the road in Los Angeles last Tuesday, Carlisle noted that Rondo has been calling out Dallas’ plays throughout the series.

“He always knows what’s going on with the other team,” Carlisle said, according to Sports Illustrated. “He’s always calling out our plays and that’s why we’re trying not to run too many plays. He knows them all.”

During Game 3, while Rondo only finished with six points and eight assists, he pestered the Mavs lead scorer on the defensive end and even caught the praise of FOX Sports’ Undisputed co-host Skip Bayless.

“Finally, down 30-11 tonight, the Clippers got sick and tired and played angry the way the Mavericks have been,” Bayless tweeted. “The Clippers finally fought back, fought fire with fire. And finally, Ty Lue let Rondo play the entire 4th quarter and close the deal. Thank you, Playoff Rondo.”

In 2020, when Rondo was winning his second NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers, he noted that the game was more of a chess match in his eyes.

“The game for me is more mental than physical,” Rondo told The Athletic. “If I’m able to outsmart my man. I compare it to chess.”

Therein lies the specific reason why the city of Dallas was positive that Rondo would have been their saving grace during the 2014-15 season when the team sent Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson and Brandan Wright to Boston in exchange for Rondo and Dwight Powell. Him and that IQ of his helped bring a championship to the Celtics back in 2008. He was a four-time All-Star. He had the brains and the vision to fill the point guard void that Dallas was experiencing at the time of his reluctant arrival in Big D.

In a documentary chronicling the 2008 Celtics, teammates spoke highly of Rondo’s intellect, which earned him the nickname “Coach ‘Do,” USA Today reported. Former teammate Brian Scalabrine once said Rondo was “the smartest player I’ve ever played with and it’s not even close” after highlighting a specific time he proved this.

Toward the end of the Sunday’s win, Rondo, waved to the crowd who had spent the night heckling him, driving the final nail into the night’s dismantling, a symbolic way of letting them know he never forgets either.