The inclination is to watch the boffo show that Rajon Rondo puts on in the NBA playoffs most springs and think there's never been a player with a skill set quite like that of the Kentucky Wildcat-turned-Boston Celtics point guard.
Yet when Frank Ramsey — another one-time UK guard who became a Celtics standout in an earlier era — turns on his TV in Western Kentucky to watch the Celts, he sees in Rondo visions of a celebrated Boston point guard from the past.
"I see some Bob Cousy in him," Ramsey said Monday. "There are more similarities than you might think."
Rondo is again stamping his imprint on the current NBA playoffs. This past Saturday, the Louisville native scored 13 points, claimed 12 rebounds, doled out 17 assists and, playing against type, drained clutch jump shots late in Boston's 92-91 victory over Philadelphia in the first game of an Eastern Conference semifinals series.
In the entire history of NBA basketball, six players have now compiled triple-doubles in a playoff game at least eight times. The first five form a hoops Who's Who: Magic Johnson (30), Jason Kidd (11), Larry Bird (10), Wilt Chamberlain (nine) and Oscar Robertson (eight).
After Saturday, the sixth name on this exalted list belongs to 26-year-old Rajon Rondo (eight).
Ramsey knows something about playing alongside a celebrated Celtics point guard under playoff pressure. In Ramsey's 10-year NBA career (1954-55 through 1963-64) he played on seven NBA championship teams. For the first nine of his years in Boston, the 6-foot-3 Ramsey was teammates with Cousy, the Basketball Hall of Famer who many consider the father of modern point-guard play.
"Cousy was the first guy I ever remember seeing who took the ball behind-his-back on the dribble," Ramsey says. "Back then, he was a guy who made passes that nobody had ever seen before."
Besides the obvious fact that both Rondo and Cousy were their teams' primary ballhandlers, Ramsey says the two share other key traits.
"Cousy had real big hands like Rajon has," said Ramsey, a Basketball Hall of Famer himself after popularizing the role of "sixth man" for Celtics coaching legend Red Auerbach. "That, I think, is why both were such good ballhandlers and could make some of the passes they make."
The other characteristic of Cousy's game that Ramsey sees in Rondo is unusually acute court vision.
"Cousy's eyes were set in a way that it was like he could see behind him. He had great peripheral vision," Ramsey says. "You watch Rondo, it's the same thing. He makes passes where you are like 'How did he even know the guy was there?'"
It is impossible to make meaningful statistical comparisons between players from vastly different eras — but it is fun to try.
Cousy was considered a good shooter in his day. Says Ramsey: "He had a really good one-hand set shot." Rondo's outside shot has long been considered errant. Yet Rondo's career field-goal percentage (48.1 percent) is far superior to Cousy's (37.5 percent).
Conversely, the rebounding prowess of the 6-1 Rondo is perceived to be one facet that makes his game unique. Yet Rondo's career rebounding average is "only" 4.4 while the 6-1 Cousy averaged 5.2 rebounds for his career.
When it comes to the statistical measure of what both Rondo and Cousy are most associated with — dishing the ball — Rondo has a narrow advantage, averaging 8.1 assists compared to Cousy's 7.5.
A far more prolific scorer, Cousy averaged 18.4 points compared to Rondo's 10.8 so far in his career.
Ramsey, 80, recently saw Cousy, 83, in Boston. The two joined other former teammates, including iconic center Bill Russell, for a 50-year reunion honoring the Celtics' 1962 NBA championship.
Did Ramsey have a chance to talk with Cousy about Rondo?
"Are you kidding? When we get together, we don't talk basketball," Ramsey said. "We talk about our ailments. That and who we know, people we played against, and whether they are still alive. I guess we're old."
Rondo is as thoroughly modern a player as there is. His No. 9 Celtics jersey was the 10th most popular in sales among NBA players in 2011-12. On May 9th, The Wall Street Journal wrote an appreciation of the Celtics guard entitled Rajon Rondo: The NBA's least boring player.
Yet beneath Rondo's flash, Ramsey sees the old school.
"The thing with Rondo, he understands angles and just has a sense for the ball," Ramsey said. "You can tell, he's a very smart player."
Says Ramsey: "He's like Cousy in that way, too."