Along the shores of the island of Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts, there are miles of sandy beaches, private and uncluttered. The beaches are an ideal place to jog, walk the dog, commune with nature, or, in this particular instance in the summer of 2007, make a decision that would dramatically affect the most storied franchise in NBA history.
The principal owner of the Boston Celtics, Wyc Grousbeck, owns a home on the island and, the night before, had dined with the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox. The Celtics were hot on the trail of Kevin Garnett, convinced that the addition of the so-called Big Ticket, along with the previous addition of Ray Allen, would catapult the Celtics from lottery loser to NBA championship contender.
There was one problem. The Timberwolves were insisting that Rajon Rondo, who had just finished his rookie season, be included in the deal. Celtics GM Danny Ainge refused to part with Rondo, the speedy, athletic point guard he had personally plucked out of the 2006 draft. Minnesota GM Kevin McHale, a friend and former teammate of Ainge, was equally insistent that Rondo be in the deal.
The two GMs turned it over to their respective bosses to finish or squash the deal. Grousbeck had already talked to Minnesota owner Glen Taylor and Grousbeck had made it clear: Rondo was not going anywhere. As Grousbeck explained to Taylor, Rondo was the Celtics' starting point guard. He would not necessarily be so in Minnesota, which had Marko Jaric, the newly drafted Randy Foye and the veteran Troy Hudson on its roster. Clearly, Grousbeck explained further, Rondo was far more valuable to Boston than he would be to Minnesota.
Taylor didn't buy it. Why, he wondered, would the Celtics jeopardize a deal for a first-ballot Hall of Famer, a game-changer, for a player who had been in the league for only one season? All the other pieces were in place. But the Timberwolves demanded Rondo. Grousbeck would not budge and told Taylor to get back to him no later than 5 p.m. that day. He had to know either way. Grousbeck also agreed to pay a portion of Sebastian Telfair's salary. The Celtics were quite willing to include him in the deal instead of Rondo.
Grousbeck was alone on the aforementioned beach when his cellphone rang. It was the end of July. It was Taylor on the line. He had blinked. The Timberwolves would take Telfair and drop their demand that Rondo be included in the deal.
Taylor should not have been surprised. The Celtics had done the same thing a month earlier, when they acquired Allen on draft night in a multiplayer deal. The Sonics had asked for Rondo. The Celtics came back with Delonte West. But Seattle was desperate to get the Celtics' No. 5 overall pick (which they turned into Jeff Green) and were not nearly as hard to placate as the Timberwolves.
In the space of a year, Rondo had gone from a draft pick in the 20s to a deal breaker in two separate trades for future Hall of Famers. Either deal could have, and would have, been blown up had the Sonics or Timberwolves held firm.
"Rondo was not going to be traded. Period,'' said Grousbeck.
And then Rondo went out and played like he was everything the Celtics had hoped he would be. He appeared in 77 games. He started all 26 playoff games. And he saved his best for last, harassing the Lakers to the tune of 21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and six steals in the championship-clinching Game 6 in Boston. Afterward, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Rondo disrupted his team. That was an understatement.
As the clock ticked down to the final buzzer, a Boston championship assured, Ainge watched the the 22-year-old Rondo with interest and, to some degree, sympathy.
"I was just so happy for him,'' Ainge said. "To have been the whipping boy of the veterans and to have had the commentators all say he couldn't do this and couldn't do that. It was almost like it was one of my own kids."
As he went closer to congratulate Rondo, Ainge was struck by what he saw. There were tears coming out of Rondo's eyes.
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com