It could have been much simpler, these last years of Ray Allen’s Hall of Fame career, but simple isn’t always easy.
In nine days, Allen will take the court as a sworn enemy of the Boston Celtics. It will be the NBA’s biggest story on opening night. Boil everything else away — all the drama with Rajon Rondo; all the pride that makes us human — and you’re left with this: Allen took less money to play a similar role for the team that put the Celtics out of the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.
That’s legacy altering stuff. Rewrite the enshrinement speech and edit the obit.
There was a time, only a few months ago, when Allen could have had his jersey retired next to those of Bird and Russell and Cousy and all the rest. He helped Boston win its first NBA championship in 22 years. He set the NBA record for three-pointers in shamrock green.
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There is a mystique to that shamrock. It’s stitched into the fabric of Boston like a badge of honor and it’s unlike anything else in basketball — maybe unlike anything else in American sports. To say otherwise, and to ignore that fact here, would be to ignore the very essence of this story’s significance.
Loyalty is to Boston as money is to New York, politics is to Chicago, the Rocky Mountains are to Denver and Hollywood is to Los Angeles.
Allen knew all this. Even before he played for Boston, even before he began his NBA career, Allen played college basketball at Connecticut for Jim Calhoun, a man born just outside of Quincy, Mass. Calhoun demanded fealty above all else.
Allen knew the price for leaving, and still he left.
In the end, it came down to this: What would that shamrock have meant to Allen if he had stayed? What would that jersey hanging in the rafters represent to Allen, the man, not Allen, the player?
These are the questions that motivated one of the greatest shooters ever to mortgage his meticulously crafted image as a New England institution, move his family to Miami and be the sixth man for the NBA’s defending champion, the almost-universally loathed Heat.
Allen could have made millions more in Boston and been respected not only as one of the organization’s greatest players but also as the player who sacrificed for the team. Some things inside the hearts of men, however, cannot be bought, reasoned with or ignored.
“I was very loyal to the city and I love the city, but when it came time to keep me in a uniform [the Celtics] did everything they could to seem like … to not want me to come back,” Allen said.
Yes, the Celtics offered Allen plenty of money to stay, but Allen viewed it as a hollow gesture. Boston signed Jason Terry in early July, ensuring that Allen would receive fewer minutes. He already had been benched for Avery Bradley. For Allen, who had helped restore Boston as an Eastern Conference power, it was too much.
Matter of respect
Allen is adamant that coming off bench for the Celtics ultimately had nothing to do with his decision to leave. After all, he’s currently coming off the bench for Heat, too. It was more about respect.
In the end, Allen didn’t feel appreciated in Boston. In his final two seasons there, he was made to feel old.
“In Boston, they were telling me they were going to bring me off the bench — ‘We’re going to play you less minutes’ — and all I asked was, ‘How are you going to use me because the last two years you’ve been using me as decoys,’ ” Allen said. “ ‘You’re running all these plays for me just to pass it to somewhere else and you’re not putting me into any scoring opportunities and I’m just standing over in the corner the majority of games.’ ”
Old and in the corner, pushed to the periphery and collecting dust like a forgotten household appliance, or maybe an old bowling trophy: Allen wasn’t going out like that.
Remember, this is a man who takes cabs to away arenas to get up shots hours before his teammates arrive on the bus for pregame. This is a player who, at age 37, can still run a sub-six-minute mile. No one works harder. No one.
As Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said Thursday, “His nickname should be Everyday Ray,” because he doesn’t take days off.
Allen’s work ethic is machine-like; his ego is very much human. When the Heat came to talk this summer, Allen listened.
“Miami, they did everything they could,” Allen said. “It was like, even though they were limited money-wise, they were talking about how to play, how the game can be played and how they were going to incorporate me into the offense.
“ ‘This is how we envision using you.’ It was better than what Boston was telling me and that was the team that I played on.”
When he was a coach, Pat Riley knew how to motivate his players. Everyone is different. Some you insult; some you encourage. Timing is everything. As a team president, he knows what motivates players. LeBron James and Shane Battier wanted rings. Dwyane Wade wanted LeBron. Udonis Haslem wanted family.
Allen wanted respect, from his new teammates and from the ones he was leaving behind. Joining the Heat gives him a chance at both. Winning with the Heat means defeating the Celtics.
Defeating the Celtics means getting the best of Rondo.
Allen and Rondo don’t hate each other, but they’re probably not friends on Facebook, either. Their icy relationship goes back several years and it hasn’t been a secret. Rondo does a lot of things well, but hiding his emotions is not one of them. He’s also not very good at dealing with the media. Allen understands that game quite well.
In a recent story by Jackie MacMullen of ESPN.com, former Celtics reserve Keyon Dooling said “sometimes it felt like Ray spent more time talking to the media than he did to his teammates.”
“I love Ray. I love his family. He’s a true pro,” said Dooling, a South Florida native. “But it’s unfair how this all came out. Ray had such a good relationship with all the reporters and Rondo was so quiet. So who gets all the good press?”
According to MacMullen’s story, the rift between Allen and Rondo didn’t so much divide the Celtics’ locker room as it did stunt the maturation of the team’s chemistry. Allen and Rondo never brought their differences onto the court, but those differences still had an effect.
There was an understanding throughout the organization that for the team to reach its full potential and defeat the Heat, Allen needed to go. Then Allen went to the Heat and all hell broke loose. Kevin Garnett was one of Allen’s best friends in Boston. Recently, when asked if he had communicated with Allen during training camp, Garnett said he had lost Allen’s phone number.
Allen sat down for three separate one-on-one interviews — with The Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post — on Thursday to clear the air well before the season opener. He said the friction with Rondo began in 2009 when Rivers and Celtics president Danny Ainge proposed a trade that would have sent Allen and Rondo to Phoenix for Amare Stoudemire, Leandro Barbosa and the 14th overall pick in the 2010 draft.
Allen said that, at the time, Ainge and Rivers “didn’t get along” with Rondo.
“So, I called him and I told him, ‘hey they’re supposedly trading us to Phoenix because you and Danny and Doc don’t get along,’ ” Allen said. “ ‘So, whatever you can do.’
“So, for some reason, I guess he thought that I was … that I had something against him, or there were some issues. And I had no issues with him. I won with him.”
Now, Allen says if Rondo “had issue with me, that’s on him.”
“I have a way of going about doing my job that, I want everyone to come and play their hardest and come in and do their job and I can’t, I don’t worry myself with things I can’t control,” Allen said.
Rondo is now more beloved than ever in Boston and Allen is playing for the Celtics’ most bitter rival. If ending his career in a roar and not a whimper was Allen’s ultimate motivation for coming to Miami, he certainly has found it.
As Heat coach Erik Spoelstra likes to say, there will be noise.