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If you haven’t seen the video of Rondo dislocating his elbow in Game 3 of the Celtics’ conference semi-final series against the Miami Heat, consider yourself lucky. The gruesome image of seeing his left arm going one way and his elbow go the other is enough to make anyone squeamish. There was no way he was coming back from that. The air was sucked out of the Garden, as every Celtics fan waited with baited breath, hoping Boston’s engine didn’t stall out.
He was helped up by teammate Kevin Garnett, and then, holding Rondo’s arm in place, Dr. McKeon walked the All-Star point guard back into the locker room. There he went. There went the chances for Banner 18. There went everything. It was all over, or was it? Cue the Superman music.
Suddenly, the Jumbotron gave us a quick shot of the bench and Rondo was sitting there with a new padded sleeve on his left arm. The crowd, in total disbelief erupted in cheers. Only moments later after a timeout, Rondo was back on the floor. With the will of a champion and the heart of a lion, Rondo walked into the backcourt and began to pressure the ball while the Heat tried to get it up the floor.
Clearly favoring the arm, Rondo fought through screens and battled through the pain to ignite his team and electrify the Garden. He caught passes with one hand and sent them back with the same one. He grabbed a rebound and dribbled in a circle and up the floor with ONE HAND.
He stole the ball from Chris Bosh and he took off to lay it in on the other end. Now, it wasn’t just an amazing comeback, it was almost not human. His heroic return is yet another example that some of our favorite iconic athletes are in fact SUPERhuman.
Think back to one of the greatest moments in Boston sports history, the bloody sock. In Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS between the Red Sox and Angels, Curt Schilling’s tendon sheath was torn in his right ankle. He struggled in his next start in the ALCS due to the injury, but he had the tendon in his ankle stabilized with what would be called the Schilling Tendon Procedure for Game 6. He pitched and was outstanding. The Red Sox won the game in what was deemed the “bloody sock game,” because of the blood that soaked his sock while he pitched. The same happened when he pitched in the World Series, and after 86 years, the Red Sox had finally brought the commissioner’s trophy back to Beantown.
Kirk Gibson took the hero role back in the 1988 World Series. In Game 1, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and his Dodgers down 4-3, Gibson was summoned by manager Tommy Lasorda to pinch hit. He wasn’t expected to even play in the series due two knee injuries and a virus, but Gibson hobbled to the plate to face Dennis Eckersley. With a runner on, he took Eck deep and limped around the bases pumping his fist. The Dodgers went on to win the series four games to one.
Baseball isn’t a contact sport, so you could argue it’s easier to play with pain, so let’s move to football. In 2002, Marshall Quarterback Byron Leftwich broke his shin and returned to the game. He couldn’t even get downfield on his own. His linemen Steve Sciullo and Steve Perretta both carried Leftwich to the huddle after each play. Marshall didn’t win, but Leftwich proved to everyone that he was one tough character.
Also in 2002, Donovan McNabb went down in a Week 11 game against the Arizona Cardinals. He was sacked and then had to head to the locker room with what was first reported as an ankle sprain. The ankle was taped up and he returned to the game. He then completed 20 of 25 passes along with four touchdowns. After the game, x-rays showed that he broke his fibula in three places.
Then there was Willis Reed. Reed tore a muscle in his leg in Game 5 of the 1970 NBA Finals. The Knicks won Game 5, but without Reed, Wilt Chamberlain was able to pop off and lead the Lakers to a win in Game 6. Just when no one thought the Knicks would find a way to stop Chamberlain in Game 7, Willis Reed came limping out of the tunnel. His toughness gave the Knicks a boost, and although he didn’t play long, his effort was enough for the Knicks to pull out that win in Game 7 for the championship.
So where does Rondo’s surprising return rank with all these other immortal sports moments? Well, it depends. If the Celtics mount a comeback in this series and upset the Heat, then it’s quite a monumental moment. Even if Boston falls flat the rest of the series, it’s pretty epic.
It didn’t reverse a curse like Schilling. It didn’t win them a title like Reed, but at least it was in a big playoff series, and not just a regular season game like McNabb and Leftwich.
It will be a huge part of Celtics lore for many years to come, I know that much. I, along with the rest of Celtic Nation, hope that the effort didn’t just fire up the C’s for one game, but for the rest of the series and the rest playoffs.
Follow Brian Moller on Twitter: @Brian_Moller