In 2002, thousands gathered from around Louisville to see the most prolific guard in the city. Rajon Rondo and Eastern High School took to the hardwood against Pleasure Ridge Park in a game where Rondo gave an epic performance scoring 43 points in a triple overtime thriller.
Now, 14 years later, the four-time NBA All Star and 2008 NBA Champion is still leaving a special mark in the hearts of many through Camp Rondo.
In the campâ€™s ninth year, June 27-July 1, roughly 350 kids came from around the nation to Louisville to learn from one of the leagueâ€™s best point guards.
â€œIt is a great and humble feeling for me to give back and give this opportunity to the kids,â€ says Rondo. â€œI think this is my ninth year, and the kids keep coming back â€“ I think because of what they get to learn here. They just donâ€™t come and play basketball; we teach them life lessons. Kids who have been here in the past always come back and tell me how much they love it.â€
Recollecting his youth, Rondo describes how he had professional basketball players as mentors who helped him in his game and the impact it makes on a youngster.
â€œA lot of these kids donâ€™t get to see basketball players, so I have a couple of guys come in each year, maybe a professional or guys from UofL or UK who some of these guys may look up to as role models.â€
Louisville players Ray Spalding and Quentin Snider stopped on the campâ€™s last day, but the name that caught campers most by surprise was NBA forward Josh Smith of the Houston Rockets.
Smith, who calls Rondo his â€œbrother from another mother,â€ sat as he watched his 7-year-old try to imitate his fatherâ€™s skills in the camp.
â€œHe did good,â€ Smith said about his sonâ€™s performance. â€œHe had fun, and we are just glad to be up here with the family and spend time with family.â€
He wasnâ€™t the only protÃ©gÃ© to an NBA dad. Rondoâ€™s own son, Pierre, finally received his Christmas gift from last year.
â€œHeâ€™s been wanting to come [to the camp] since December,â€ Rondo adds. â€œHis Christmas present from me was to go to the camp, so for six months, we have been hearing about it. So Iâ€™m excited. He is only 4, and I am happy he was here.â€
As Rondo and Smith both examine how their basketball genes have been passed down to the next generation, Smith considers it an honor for his basketball journey to be used as a precedent for young campers to follow.
â€œYou grow up with a dream and when you get old enough to fulfill and live through your dreams, individually by yourself it is a great accomplishment. It is very innocent for the kids to be able to see guys like us and then drive themselves to be able to do whatever it is they want to do in life; whether it is basketball, any other professional sport or anything in their desired career field that they want to pursue. It gives them the added motivation by being able to look at us, see where we came from and understand that we made it.â€
Arguably the most memorable moment of Camp Rondo this year was when Rondo was handed the key to the city of Grand Coteau, Louisiana by Mayor Shaterral Johnson.
Mayor Johnson took her mother to see Rondo play in New Orleans versus the Pelicans a few years back. Since then, the family has been enamored with Rajon â€“ so much so that they have attended the camp the past three summers. And now, a little town with less than 1,000 residents is among his greatest cheerleaders.
â€œIt is a family atmosphere here, and we have made it a family vacation,â€ says Mayor Johnson. â€œMy nephew comes here to participate in the camp, and we decided to give Rondo the keys to the city â€¦ Youâ€™re learning from the best point guard in the NBA. He gives the basics and fundamentals and teaches about education â€“ because education is important.â€
Prior to Rondo signing with the Chicago Bulls, he contemplated NBA free agency and the next job he would have. So he spent the week of his camp setting aside business matters to enjoy the chance to touch the lives of many.
â€œItâ€™s a roller coaster and a whirlwind,â€ Rondo says about NBA free agency. â€œOne day youâ€™re thinking one thing and then the next 24 hours, youâ€™re thinking the next, so I just tried to stay focused. By me having my camp, I was able to focus on something outside of basketball; I was able to come here and focus, smile and play with these kids.â€ VT