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Rajon Rondo’s Secret Stuff

The Pelicans point guard and postseason cult hero hit a wall around the midpoint of the season. But the veteran actually got better in the second half thanks to a custom-made drink from his personal chef.

Rajon Rondo smiling next to an illustration of a shake AP Images/Ringer illustration

What sold Rajon Rondo on chef Frank Miller was the crunchy French toast. While Rondo relaxed at a house in Los Angeles near Mulholland Drive with former NBA player Josh Smith and other friends more than five years ago, Miller was undergoing a one-day tryout. The chef had cooked for celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Rick Rubin, Diddy, and Mary J. Blige in the past, and wasn’t lacking in confidence. He called his shot in his showcase for Rondo before the cast-iron pan had even been drawn. “I guarantee you, I got this,” Miller quipped to Rondo’s manager. Miller pulled out all the stops over the course of the day, including his signature breakfast dish—a custard-based, Rice Krispies–crusted French toast that everyone devoured. At day’s end, Rondo made it clear that this partnership was going to work.

Miller has worked with Rondo ever since, even as the veteran point guard has moved from Dallas to Sacramento to Chicago, and now to New Orleans. This latest stop has been a welcome one for a chef who is classically trained in French cooking and enjoys using local ingredients, and the perfect spot for the 32-year-old Rondo, too. The former All-Star and NBA champion has thrived this season in Alvin Gentry’s system as part of a Pelicans team that, despite heading into Friday’s Game 3 of their second-round series against the Warriors down 0-2, won its second playoff series in franchise history just two weeks ago.

Miller is a staple of every Pelicans home game, and his gourmet meals are part of Rondo’s pregame and postgame routines. But at the midpoint of this past regular season, Miller also began contributing to Rondo’s in-game regimen. The chef whipped together a custom 12-ingredient shake aimed at helping with recovery and avoiding injuries. It’s Rondo’s very own Secret Stuff. It worked, too. The Rondo of old was back.

Sleek, thin, and quick, yet powerful, and with the ability to maneuver around sharp turns with ease. That’s how a Ferrari rides. That’s also how Miller describes how Rondo’s body moves. Miller provides the fuel on a daily basis while Rondo is in New Orleans—and on the road, he relays what to cook and how to cook it to the hotel kitchen. Rondo burns through it like a blaze tearing through a forest.

“His metabolism is on another level,” Miller said. “The rest of my clients are trying to keep the fat off, but Rajon’s body fat index ranges from 3.0 and 3.8, and most elite athletes are 7.2 to 7.9, so that’s just a massive variance.” While many NBA players spent this summer trying to slim down to ready themselves for a faster NBA, Rondo has maintained his lean, slender physique throughout his NBA career. Even as he’s cycled through five NBA teams and suffered injuries to his hands, face, and ankles, he’s never had to make an effort to prioritize eating healthy. He already eats well, according to Miller.

But this season, trainer Mike Guevara, who is in his first year with the Pelicans after previously working with tennis player Victoria Azarenka and others, began noticing a few physical ailments bothering Rondo around the All-Star break. “Around that time you start looking around the league and people are dropping like flies,” Guevara said. “This is around the same moment we started having similar, not quite injuries, but more or less like nagging hurt. Things that were bothersome and weren’t getting better, things that were continually hindering, but not disabling. That inspired me to look at nutrition.”

And so Guevara took a chance and asked Rondo a question.

“Hey, is it cool if I talk to your chef?”

“Absolutely,” Rondo replied.

The two connected quickly, and Guevara laid out his concerns. Inflammatory foods like butter, cream, white bread, refined sugar, and red meat had to go in order to help the body heal. Coconut oil, coconut cream, complex carbohydrates, and protein in every form had to be worked in. Miller had already been using healthier alternatives, so he was up for the challenge and familiar with excising inflammatory foods from a diet.

“He seemed to be really surprised when I knew exactly the foods he was talking about,” Miller said. To their benefit, Rondo was all in. Miller can’t go more than a few minutes without praising Rondo’s hell-bent discipline, but also his adaptability in this area. The point guard has a reputation of being tough to work with on the court, but not in the kitchen. He trusts his performance chaperones. “He lets people do what they do and doesn’t micromanage them,” Miller said. He then paused for a beat. “If they know what they’re doing.” Miller and Guevara do.

“We put our heads together and he told me the foods that he wanted to see on board,” Miller said. “That’s when I developed the halftime shake for Rajon.”

It needed to taste good, first and foremost. So, Miller went to his whiteboard, brought out his Vitamix and, like Picasso to a painting, began to work on his masterpiece. He knew everything he wanted to throw in the mix—from bananas and avocado to manuka honey and chocolate almond milk—but remixed it twice more to get the most amount of spinach and collagen protein and collagen peptides in there.

Collagen directly helps with soft-tissue recovery and inflammation, and it’s also used for bone broth—the liquid of the recovery gods used by Kobe Bryant and others. Including it was a priority. Miller once had made a bone marrow-exposed bone broth, simmered for 36 hours, for Rick Rubin to help jolt him from an illness that had him in bed for multiple days. With Rondo, Miller tried to get bone broth (from a steer’s bones) into everything he could, and still does. “Rajon was afraid, he didn’t want to see [the bones],” Miller said. “He was like, ‘You didn’t put that in the food, did you?’ I said ‘No, no.’ … He didn’t know. For three days, I’m putting this in everything I could.” It still wasn’t enough. And so the collagen proteins went in the shake, too.

The final result? A 12-ingredient blend that had everything Rondo needed to boost his energy for the second half:

An image listing all of the ingredients in Rajon Rondo’s gameday shake, including blueberries, avocado, bananas, and proteins Ringer illustration

Miller makes the 20-ounce shake before every home game, stores it in a stainless steel water bottle, and takes it to the aptly named Smoothie King Center in downtown New Orleans. There, he hands it to Guevara (who blends the recipe on the road) to be kept cold until consumption. Rondo, who wasn’t made available for this story, drinks about a quarter of it at halftime, and the rest of it postgame.

“Quality protein at halftime, and then recovery protein after the game,” Guevara explained. “Credit to chef Frank, he was was able to engineer something that tastes good, but at the same time, give everything that an athlete would need at halftime and then postgame.”

Guevara says it’s difficult to know to what extent this diet adjustment helped, but Rondo remained healthy through the second half of the regular season, playing 4.9 more minutes per game after the start of February, including 3.3 more minutes in the second halves of games. His net rating received a similar boost, going from a minus-5.5 over the first four months of the season to a plus-6.7 from February through April.

Performance and opportunity had a lot to do with that uptick, too. Rondo racked up more assists in the second half of the season and shot 49 and 51 percent from the floor, and 48.4 percent in the playoffs so far. DeMarcus Cousins’s season-ending injury in late January was also a major disappointment for the Pelicans, but he and Rondo were one of the team’s worst two-man pairings (minus-6.3) among regulars, making it tough to play the former Kings teammates together in key moments. Rondo teamed with Nikola Mirotic’s more spartan catch-and-shoot game, meanwhile, was a major hit (plus-9). This postseason, Rondo is averaging 12.7 assists a game, the most in his playoff career.

“He just feels better, whether or not it is [the shake],” Guevara said. “But you could definitely say we intervened, and things are getting better, so we’ll rock with it.”

Rondo’s energy boost comes from more than just Miller’s “Super Smoothie.” His pregame meal is just as important. While Miller mixes the shake in the kitchen, Rondo chows down on a 12-ounce barbecued salmon filet that rests on a bed of wilted and slightly spicy garlic spinach drizzled with a barbecue glaze. A nap follows before he makes his way to the arena.

12-ounce Creole BBQ salmon over a bed of spicy wilted spinach with garlic and lemon
Courtesy chef Frank Miller

Rondo documents most of the meals Miller prepares on his Instagram Story, with a description next to Miller’s handle. “It’s a part of his graciousness, and I appreciate it,” Miller says.

Miller speaks of Rondo like a longtime friend. It’s partly why, when it came time to eliminate sugar from Rondo’s diet, Miller made an exception: Rondo’s morning croissant with butter and jam. The pastry has to be crisp and piping hot. Each morning, while Miller puts together an omelette to get Rondo his greens, the point guard takes his time with the treat like he’s setting up an offensive play call—tearing it off piece by piece and dabbing it with butter and jam before popping it into his mouth.

A new diet has helped keep the veteran sharp in his first extended postseason run since his Boston days, but there’s always room for pastries. “That might not be right on to the diet,” Miller said, “but in my opinion, that feeds his spirit, that feeds his soul. It’s important to have balance.”

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