What was the price of Ray Allen’s defection?
One of the lasting visuals from last night’s return of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett’s return to the Boston Garden was the zoom in on the two empty spots on the retired number banner. Placed next to each other, side by side, the arrangement appears to be that someday, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will have another day together, having their numbers retired in unison to the Garden rafters.
Yet, when Kevin Garnett joined Paul Pierce back in 2007 in order to help Pierce win the championship he so desperately coveted, another veteran player, one who was also missing a ring from his resume, was brought in to help the team win. Ray Allen, the longtime Milwaukee and Seattle shooting-guard was brought in to provide shooting and offensive punch to pair with Paul Pierce on the wing and create more scoring threat.
While Paul Pierce was the brash, confident leader and captain of the team and Kevin Garnett was the loud, energetic and tough anchor of the middle, Ray Allen exuded only a quiet confidence. Everyone knew the stories about Ray. He was a gym rat, a superstitious type who took the same amount of shots every day during the season before games. Had I been told that Ray Allen had the same meal from the same organically grown super-market as well, I likely would have believed it. Ray Allen was more akin to a starting pitcher than the sluggers that were Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. I guess that makes Rajon Rondo the strange shortstop in that analogy, but I’m beginning to get off topic.
Admittedly, there are not a lot of people who would call Ray Allen their favorite Celtic of that particular era, but there are those that appreciated the attention to detail and the superstitious nature of his play. When Ray Allen broke the record for most career three-point shots made, their was a general respect given to Ray Allen that it was one in Boston in a Celtics’ uniform. I’m still not sure how much “love” was given to Ray Allen that night. Less than even Rajon Rondo, he was the odd man out in the star pecking order. Those that were between the ages of 15-30 who grew up watching Pierce loved Pierce. The older fans who remembered the days of Larry and Russell were enamored by Garnett, and the new fans who imaginations were being captured – as well as the massive amounts of basketball blogs that loved his quirkiness – were quickly turned fans of Rajon Rondo.
Ray Allen? He shot the ball really well and that’s about it. Of the four, either him or Rajon Rondo was offered up in trades the most and his rumored trades were bigger slaps in the face than anything that Rajon Rondo was offered up in. The only time that Rondo was truly on the market was when the Celtics were about to receive the best point-guard in the world. Ray Allen was once involved in a trade that would have netted some nice pieces for the Boston Celtics bench.
In large part, this is why Ray Allen parted ways with the team at the end of the 2012 season. He had already been relegated to bench duty with the Celtics. In fact, the only reason he was a starter in the playoffs was because Avery Bradley had gone down with injury in the first-round series. He did not want to play behind Avery Bradley as Ray felt he deserved to start over someone he believed he was better than. When the opportunity came to join a team he felt had a better chance to win a title, he accepted less money and a lesser role to do it. That second title was most important to him, and he got it.
The Boston fans felt scorned by his defection (to Miami of all places?!?!) since the Celtics offered more money and probably more minutes to help the team try and run back a championship run one more time. It’s hard to fault him for his choice, but it did not make the defection any easier. In his first game back last season, Ray got the typical video tribute and a nice applause from the fans, but nothing else.
Compare that to what Pierce and Garnett got last night. From the pregame introductions to the tip-off to the cheers coming when Pierce and Garnett made plays and their own tributes, it was truly Pierce and Garnett’s first night. I say first, because those two blank spots on the banner that were previously mentioned are reserved for Pierce and KG. That night will come in the near future.
So what about Ray Allen? He is the greatest shooter of all time and a two-time NBA champion, but how much klout does that second championship carry? His shot in Game 6 of the NBA Finals certainly helps his position, but ultimately its hard to argue that it means that much in the grand scheme of things. Had he stuck around and won another one with the Celtics, the meaning behind that would have been greater.
In addition, there is a legitimate chance that no team will retire the number of one of the greatest shooters of all time. Milwaukee won’t because by all accounts he left there on poor terms. Seattle likely would have, but they don’t exist as a franchise any more. Boston most certainly would have, and likely there would have been a night honoring all of them at the same time, but there remains the fact that Ray Allen is basically dead to those two. Even Kevin Garnett said so himself last year. He gave up on the team. Technically, he made the right decision. He saw how the chips were falling and decided to get another ring with a better team, but he also sacrificed a place in history to get a ring that could be argued as insignificant to his overall legacy.
It probably won’t matter to Ray Allen. We in the blog-world and the social-media circles care way more about legacy and such than most of those that participate in the sports we follow. Ray gets another ring, he gets to play basketball for a good team and probably enjoys life in South Beach. It is also hard to say that what happened does not matter. Sports are one of the few things that are timeless, the image of the bouncing baby boy asking his father or his grandfather to tell him about watching the teams that he is now learning to love as well is about as American as it gets. Ray Allen had a chance to be a more important part of the Celtics’ story, as the quiet member who was so perfect at what he did, but also fought alongside his brothers to the bitter end.
Instead, Ray Allen is what most imagined that KG and Ray Allen would be at the start of the era. He was the greatest shooter of all-time and a dirty mercenary who cared not for legacy. That’s the best that can be said about Ray Allen now.