It was probably some day nearing the summer of 1999. A teenager from the Canary Islands is quite probably glued to the tv set watching some NBA game late at night. The kid takes advantage of the long NBA breaks during games to grab some basketball and imitate some moves on the back yard and shoot some hoops.
The team on the TV is probably the Sacramento Kings. The most exciting offensive squad for Spanish fans by that time, a team filled with a lot of skilled and flashy players that just want to have fun with an extra pass. Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic, Chris Webber...gifted players who made the spectator just have fun by 4 am in the morning during the week.
But the star of the game for all of us fans was Jason Williams. He was the guy to watch. I had never seen anybody so wildly amazing on the court. He was just thrilling.
The teenager that is watching and imitating Williams from the Canary Islands is no other than Sergio Rodriguez, recently linked to the Celtics.
El Chacho -his common nickname in Spain- has had quite a long career despite being only 27. He has already won a FIBA World Cup gold medal in 2006 and an Olympic Silver one last year vs the USA among many other achievements with the Spanish national team. He has already been in the NBA and back from it playing successfull basketball in Europe at the highest level. He has done it all. And yet it is now that we can fully say that Sergio is a complete and grown player.
From Spanish Chocolate to simply El Chacho, 10 years have passed. After only 3 seasons in Spanish ACB playing for Estudiantes Madrid, he was selected in the 2006 NBA draft with the 27th pick by Portland. Weeks before he participated in a pre draft workout with the Celtics.
Rodriguez is raw, really raw. Many regret that he left Europe at such an early stage of his career. Very much like fellow countryman Ricky Rubio, Rodriguez struggled at times to play in much slower paced tempo of game in Europe and was always pushing to run and lead the fast break looking for some open teammate. Back then it was quite often frustrating to see him turn the ball over, but still he showed glimpses of the player he was starting to become. He just needed time to learn about himself and how to adjust to everything on the court.
If something Sergio didn't get in Portland was playing time. Coach Nate McMillan is known for his troubles with players from Spain (see Rudy Fernandez) and being himself a point guard during his playing days he was particularly hard on Rodriguez. In three seasons he never averaged more than 15 minutes per game. In 2009 he was traded to the Sacramento Kings and he believed part of his dreams had become more than real: Spanish Chocolate would play for the team his once idol played for. It only lasted for some months as he was traded in mid season to the New York Knicks for which he played 27 games before finally deciding to come back to Europe.
His NBA dreams seemed to have ended there. He hadn't found the time, space and patience to grow significantly as a player in a league when learning is tough when you don't play. He signed for powerhouse Real Madrid where he has slowly become one of the best point guards in the continent.
Let me tell you this: What did you think of Jordan Crawford before this season started? What did you think of Nate Robinson before the playoffs of last year with the Bulls? Do you remember Rondo as a rookie?
Well, at times this is what has happened fans in Spain regarding Sergio. You thought you knew him, the good things (flashy passes, extremely good court vision, good shooting) and the bad things (turnover prone, questionable decisions at times, crazy shots, not so good D...). But at some point during the last two years, Sergio has finally learned from his mistakes and evolved. He has erased his failures, learned from them and turn them into his advantages. It is quite funny to note that his growth as a player has been equal to the growth of his facial hair.
Time for a new beard in the NBA?
By returning to Madrid he found a different status, a leading role and some emotional stability on and off the court. With his confidence regained he has become the player he was supposed to be years ago when the NBA teams fixed their eyes on him. During last summer's Eurobasket he became the best PG in the team over Ricky Rubio and Jose Calderon.
He added one thing that we have seen in Crawford this year: he has become a clutch player. He makes things happen when the offense is stagnant. He is very quick in penetration, has become an excellent shooter and his passing is as good as it always was. Even his defense has improved.
With the rumor of the Celtics being interested in Sergio I can only feel excited for both the Celtics and Sergio. The Celtics could finally have a solid back up point guard. A real one. A player that creates offense and makes his teammates better. A guy that knows his teammates and knows how to find them.
For Sergio it may be a chance to redeem himself from his not very successful NBA experience and to taste the glory and the glamour of the NBA league.
It may be time for some Chocolate. A high quality one from the other side of the ocean.