As aging as they are, as reduced as their roles have become, Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen still walk into TD Garden as NBA champions. No one can take away their title, regardless of how long ago it was.
It doesn’t seem like a decade to most, but it does to Allen, the New Orleans Pelicans guard who is battling yet another injury. He walked the hallway that separates the locker rooms at TD Garden and stared at the group photo of the 2008 team just minutes after the Celtics clinched the title against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Yeah, it felt like that,” Allen said when asked whether it has felt like a decade. “When I looked at the picture it felt like that. When I looked at the picture, I didn’t have no facial hair. I was like, ‘Damn, 10 years.’ Yeah I went over there and paid homage, big salute to it and times like that you gotta cherish because you never know when you’re going to go back.”
Allen was 26 and Rondo was 22 when the Celtics won that title. They returned to the NBA Finals two years later, losing in seven games to the Los Angeles Lakers, but neither has been back since. And the Pelicans are a long shot to even win a playoff series let alone made a run at a Finals.
So those championship times, championship moments, and championship teammates are cherished.
While Allen signed with the Memphis Grizzlies after the 2009-10 season and established an entire culture and following there, tabbing himself the Grindfather for his work ethic, Rondo’s post-Boston career hasn’t been so successful.
He spent a ghastly stretch with the Dallas Mavericks, where he clashed with coach Rick Carlisle and was benched for the playoffs. He put up big assist numbers — a career-high 11.7 — in 2015-16 with Sacramento, but the numbers were hollow because the Kings won just 33 games.
He then spent a rocky season with the Chicago Bulls, where he started, then was benched, then was nearly waived but returned to lead Chicago to two playoff wins over the Celtics as he returned to dominant form. A broken thumb in Game 2 sidelined Rondo for the remainder of the series and ended his Bulls career.
The Pelicans signed Rondo to a one-year, $3.3 million deal for an opportunity to prove himself yet again. He is averaging 7.4 points and 7.8 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. New Orleans’ goal is just to make the playoffs, light years from those championship aspirations he entered each season with Boston’s Big Three.
“When I was here we lost 18 straight and [Danny Ainge] turned it around in one year,” Rondo said. “Guys buy into the system, believe in their coach, that goes a long way and helps the coach get the trust and the confidence of a team to believe in him and everyone accepts what they’re doing for the good and the great of the team, that usually works out.”
When asked whether it had seemed like 10 years since the title, Rondo quickly said: “Yes it does. I’m looking for another one. It’s been a long time. Having rookies on the team now, I’ve got a 19-year-old rookie on my team and I think he was in middle school [then]. It’s kind of funny. There’s so many young guys now. I think I’m in the situation where KG [Kevin Garnett] was when I came in.”
Rondo was the talkative youngster while Garnett was the 31-year-old veteran looking for a ring and career legitimacy. Rondo is now 31 and seeking redemption after some troublesome post-Celtic years. The lows of the journey have made Rondo appreciate the highs at the beginning.
He was a four-time All-Star and considered one of the top five point guards in the league just five years ago. Now he’s fighting to stay in the league, trying to transform himself into a useful role player.
“That type of camaraderie, the chemistry that  team had those four or five years together, it’s obviously a brotherhood,” he said. “That’s something that you can’t take for granted because that’s something I haven’t had since I left those group of guys.”
Allen said he didn’t want to leave Boston but accepted the Memphis contract when Ainge didn’t offer a guaranteed third year. Rondo perhaps overstayed his time in Boston and was traded to the Mavericks as the Celtics were beginning their rebuild and Rondo was considered a commodity for a playoff-caliber team.
They are long gone as the Celtics have moved on successfully. But they still considered this home. Allen was grateful for Ainge and Doc Rivers giving him his first NBA opportunity. And as time wore on, Rondo treasured his experiences and savored those memories.
“It’s home [in Boston] but it’s still a road game,” Rondo said. “I’m coming here to win. Everything else is irrelevant at this point.”