Last time the Los Angeles Lakers ruled the NBA, Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard were trying to beat them.
Howard fell short with Orlando in the 2009 NBA Finals. Rondo lost with Boston in Game 7 in 2010.
They finally have another chance, this time trying to support rather than stop the Lakers.
Both are key veterans on a team that will try to top Miami in a series that starts Wednesday. Howard’s opportunity at Walt Disney World comes just down the road from where the Lakers celebrated their championship victory 11 years ago.
“It’s been the hardest road to get back here and I’m very grateful,” Howard said. “One thing is I’ve never just given up on myself. I’ve always continued to work as hard as I can knowing that one day things will change.”
He was the NBA’s dominant center while in Orlando, when the Magic ended Boston’s title reign on their way to the finals. Rondo carried the Celtics right back to the championship round with some impressive play in 2010, but that turned out to be Boston’s last chance.
“I won at 21 years old and now being 34, it’s a completely different experience, and understanding that this doesn’t come often or annually,” Rondo said. “Being back here over a decade later is a very humbling experience, and I’m letting my young guys know from all the rookies to the second or third-year players like (Kyle Kuzma) that this opportunity doesn’t come often.”
It nearly didn’t come at all. Both Howard and Rondo weighed the decision about coming to the restart, with Howard one of the last Lakers to commit. Rondo thought his presence might have been needed more back home in Louisville, Kentucky, after the shooting of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, by police.
“For me, it was tough to actually come to the bubble, knowing so much is going on where I’m from and me feeling like I have one of the biggest impacts in my city,” Rondo said.
“I take a lot of pride in trying to figure out how I can make change, understanding what I have to do as far as you go from protesting. But without the protesting you have to get to the boardrooms and make change, and understanding who we need to vote for and who we can support as a community.”
Both players have seen their roles grow during this postseason. Rondo wasn’t available when the playoffs started as he recovered from right thumb surgery and then later back spasms, but has since provided valuable ballhandling and defense off the bench.
Howard barely played in the second round against Houston’s small lineup, but moved into the starting lineup during the Western Conference finals. Whichever spot he has in this series, he’s determined for it to end differently than his other NBA Finals.
“With however long I play on the court, just go all out knowing it’s going to take just four games to win an NBA title and how close we are to the goal line,” he said. “I just want to give it all.”
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