Rajon Rondo laughed. Yes, the Dallas Mavericks point guard remembered the workout, the one held last summer in Las Vegas with Houston Rockets swingman Josh Smith, the one that led witnesses to worry that something had gone horribly wrong.
"That was fun," Rondo said. "It was actually a crazy story ..."
Some context: Rondo isn't close with many on or off the court or anywhere else, but he's especially close with Smith. The two were teammates at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, where Rondo fed his high-flying roommate a heaping portion of alley-oop passes. They've been close ever since, often talking of teaming up in the NBA one day.
However, when Justin Zormelo, who has done work as Rondo's personal statistician, put those two on the court together that day in Sin City, something changed.
"I had to stop training them and let them go at each other, one-on-one, because they were going to rip each other's heads off," Zormelo said. "That's how much of a competitor Rajon Rondo is."
They were talking trash, hitting each other, the usual nastiness, but sanding nearby was Smith's young son -- maybe 5 or 6, Rondo said -- and, watching it all unfold, he became troubled.
"Are they friends anymore?" the boy asked a nearby family member.
They were still friends, of course, just not in that moment.
"As soon as the ball tips up," Smith said, "it's a whole different person you're playing against."
Rondo has always had a ruthless on-the-court persona that sticks out more now than it would have in the brawling 1980s NBA, but so much of that cold-blooded identity can be traced back to one of basketball's last old-school players standing: Kevin Garnett.
"No limits" to competing
Garnett didn't know much about Rondo when the former MVP joined the Boston Celtics in a 2007 trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He knew the Celtics thought highly of their young point guard. He knew Rondo had a high basketball IQ and a strong work ethic. But Garnett hadn't actually watched Rondo play much, either in college at Kentucky or in the NBA.
"When I came in, he was super quiet," Garnett recalled. "He was just super isolated. He wouldn't do a lot of things with guys. He wouldn't necessarily speak."
Garnett did see Rondo's hunger to win, especially in practices, where he said Rondo refused to let his man score, much less touch the ball.
"Rondo's competitiveness is relentless," Garnett said. "I understood that he wanted to demolish."
Rondo took a little something from all the Celtics veterans, Garnett said, and from Garnett came something that made Rondo even more icy toward the opposition.
"I'm not afraid to fight for something. I'm not afraid to stand up for something. I'm not afraid to stand up for my friends, stand up for what we believe in, to believe in something wholeheartedly. He has a lot of the same makeup. I think that's our draw."Kevin Garnett
"Once I filled him with, 'Hey man, you don't need any gratification from any peers. If you bust they ass, you gain that respect from them.' That's exactly what happened," Garnett said.
Like Garnett, Rondo snarled at his teammates if they wore sneakers promoting big-name players the Celtics were facing that night: Kobe's, KD's, etc.
Rondo was also quick to engage in scuffles in games, if that meant bumping a referee or throwing an elbow into someone's jaw, as he did to Lance Stephenson earlier this season.
But it went beyond that.
Rondo would break up high-five attempts between opposing players, sneak into their on-court huddles, and when he'd fall, he'd refuse a helping hand if it were attached to someone not in Celtics green. Boston's Jared Sullinger said Rondo even chewed out his teammates at halftime when one shook hands with an opponent during the first half.
"'What are you doing?'" Sullinger recalled him saying. "'Why are we shaking hands with people that are beating the life out of us?'"
All those antics and more were commonplace in decades past. Not today.
"It's a shame because if he played in our era," said ex-Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who played in the 1980s, "he could've been as nasty as he wanted to be. He could've been Isiah [Thomas]."
"I say that tongue-in-cheek," Bryant said, "but we're comfortable pushing buttons. I think teams and players nowadays don't want to criticize each other and just want to compliment each other all the time and tell them how peachy things are. And me and him aren't opposed to challenging players."
"I agree," Rondo said. "Everybody wants to be buddy-buddy. We're out there competing. I don't feel like we have to be dirty or anything crazy, but as far as competing, there's no limits."
He added, "There's a lot of talented guys, but there's not a lot of guys that play the game that right way. A lot of people want to be buddy-buddy. It's just what it is. When I'm on the court, I just compete. When you're off the court, that's when it's time to talk or whatever you want to do. But once it goes up, it's time to compete."
Celtics strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo was as close to Rondo as anyone during the guard's eight-plus seasons in Boston, and Doo repeated a line that several close to Rondo have recited about Rondo's particular disdain for opponents.
"He genuinely hates other point guards," Doo said.
"I wouldn't say 'hate,'" Rondo said. "I just don't need to be friends. There's nothing much to talk about on the court if I don't already know you or if I haven't played with you. If I haven't played with you or you haven't been my teammate, then there's nothing to talk about."
Rondo's ex-Celtics teammate Kendrick Perkins -- one of the few Rondo is especially close with -- said that mindset flowed throughout all the Celtics during their time there.
Being buddy-buddy, Perkins said, "That's none of us that came from that Boston circle. That ain't really who we are. Really, if you ain't on our team, I could care less about talking to you during the season, outside the season, whatever."
The root of it all, naturally, was Garnett.
Old school like KG
Garnett's voice rises as he discusses his philosophy.
"If you're not stepping on, then you're the one being stepped on," Garnett said. "I'm an alpha. I'm an alpha, man. I like to think that the game is to be dominated. There wasn't any room for anything else."
He was just getting warmed up.
"I'll be honest, I'm old school, man," Garnett continued. "We're out here to beat these guys. We're not out here to be their friends. We're not out here to make any friends. Ain't no friends out here.
"There's a lot of talented guys, but there's not a lot of guys that play the game that right way. A lot of people want to be buddy-buddy. It's just what it is. When I'm on the court, I just compete. When you're off the court, that's when it's time to talk or whatever you want to do. But once it goes up, it's time to compete."Rajon Rondo
"I've played against two of my best friends in the world -- Chauncey Billups and Tyronn Lue. It don't get no more closer than that. And I'm out here trying to bust they ass like they trying to bust mine. So coming in [to Boston], we instill something -- whether it's the coach [or me] -- and that's to compete and be the best. And being the best -- that means you wasn't going to be liked by everybody and you wasn't going to be friends with everybody ... It just brought more to the fire."
Even though Garnett said he didn't know Rondo well at the beginning, he saw many similarities that helped their relationship blossom.
"I'm super quiet," Garnett said. "As a young kid, I was reserved. But when I'm doing something I'm passionate about, it's going to come out. I'm not afraid to fight for something. I'm not afraid to stand up for something. I'm not afraid to stand up for my friends, stand up for what we believe in, to believe in something wholeheartedly. He has a lot of the same makeup. I think that's our draw."
The two played together for six seasons in Boston until Garnett was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in 2013. During that time, they became as close as brothers, though it wasn't always like that.
"When [Rondo] was younger, he wanted to go at KG," Doo said. "Those guys used to butt heads. It was awesome."
Doo added that Rondo might not admit he took certain characteristics from Garnett -- Rondo doesn't deny this -- but, Doo said, "I think now, [Rondo] respects to no end KG at this point ... He's like, 'KG had it nailed. KG gets it.'"
Near the end of an hourlong interview about Rondo, Garnett is asked if he smiles seeing aspects of his old-school mentality live on in Rondo during a time when that mentality is all but extinct.
"I'm old school, [and] the fact that I was able to help guys progress, I've helped guys become men," Garnett began. "I've helped guys communicate and taught them how to communicate to others [who] didn't necessarily understand. I think our game is lacking a bit of that. We seek approval from each other by being friends and guys work out together.
"If that's the times, that's the times. But true competition comes in, there's a winner, and there's a loser. And I don't know anybody who wants to be a loser, who's calling themselves a wimp. I have a lot of pride in seeing him take pride in the competition aspect of it, to do that and compete. I'm not saying you've got to hate a guy, but if you do, I understand when you're between the lines. And hate is a very strong word, so I would use the word dislike. I get it. To me, that's alpha. That's leadership. A leader is going to show more in his actions versus his words."
Garnett paused and took a breath.
"Yeah," Garnett said, "I smile."