DALLAS -- Rajon Rondo is bracing for an emotional return to Boston. It will come two weeks after Rondo, the four-time All-Star point guard who spent the first eight-plus seasons of his NBA career with the Boston Celtics, was traded to the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavs face the Celtics at TD Garden on Friday night, and Rondo wistfully looks forward to a warm reception from a crowd he called "one of if not the best fans in sports, period."
"Hopefully I won't be too emotional, try not to cry a little bit, but I'm very excited to go back," Rondo said. "Those fans are amazing there. If I do [tear up], hopefully the camera isn't on me too much. I'm going to try to blink a lot."
Rondo experienced extreme highs and lows during his tenure in Boston. He began his career as a 20-year-old rookie on a team that lost 18 consecutive games at one point. He was the starting point guard on an NBA championship team the next season, after the Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to form a "Big Three" with Paul Pierce.
The title season started a five-year span during which the Celtics were legitimate contenders. That run effectively ended when Rondo tore the ACL in his right knee in January 2013. After a first-round playoff exit, the Celtics entered a rebuilding stage that summer with the departures of Garnett, Pierce and coach Doc Rivers, leaving Rondo as the last remaining member of the 2008 title team before he was dealt to Dallas.
"That's where I started. That's where I got molded," Rondo said. "That's where everything happened for me. The best years are still ahead of me, but I was an All-Star four times, won a championship in Boston. I can't thank the fans enough.
"Even when we were losing 18 in a row the first year, the fans still showed a lot of support. They came to every game. When I was out on the streets, they didn't kill me or heckle me. It was always supportive. They're true fans. They're not fair-weather fans, when you're losing, they're gone. They ride it out and be a Celtic for life."
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, a reserve on the Celtics' 1986 championship team, said Boston fans love Rondo because they respect his relentless competitive spirit.
"Boston is one of the great sports cities in the world, and the reason people in Boston identify with him is because of his uncompromising competitiveness and the fact that he's an absolute original," Carlisle said. "He's just a one-of-a-kind player."
Rondo said it was "an honor to be a Celtic" and expressed appreciation to Boston owner Wycliffe Grousbeck and general manager Danny Ainge for giving him the opportunity.
"I gave it my all every time I went out on the floor as a Celtic," Rondo said. "I played for the team, obviously. It was a great opportunity to play for one of the best organizations in sports history."