Another day, and another legend retires from the game, leaving the game that bit more empty. In this article, we are going to pay our tribute to that legend – Ray Allen.
Being a child of the 1990’s, I grew up watching the evolution of the modern NBA game. From a game played near the basket it has not evolved to more of a shooting contest than anything else. Numerous rule changes and easing up on the defensive end, the game is more favorable to the smaller players today than ever before, which has led to an increase in the number of spot up shooters and three point specialists. It’s a far cry from the early days where there was no three point shot and the most valuable shots were ones near the basket, which naturally favored the bigger and more physical players.
However, some players like Bob Petit, Elvin Hayes, George Gervin developed their shooting to such an extent that they could give any center like George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain or Julius Erving a run for their money. From the 1980’s, players like Larry Bird took the game to a different level by being excellent shooters from anywhere on the half court and winning championships with the same. Then came a transitional era between 1990-2010 when the game slowly evolved to it’s modern day version, where the three point shot is now considered the best shot in the game.
One man who epitomised the new age was Mr. Basketball, Ray Allen. Allen played for multiple championship teams and remained a star throughout his career, ever since he made his debut in 1996. Allen won 2 NBA championships, one each with the Celtics and the Miami Heat. In his first season, he won the three point shootout contest at the All-Star Weekend and he would never look back. He finished his career with the highest number of 3-point field goals made both in the regular season and the playoffs, and held the record for a single season till his new prototype, Stephen Curry broke it.
Ray Allen’s father was in US defense services, and as a result had to relocate frequently. Every three years or so, he was on the move and as a result, friendships were hard to come by for him, especially in the pre-Facebook era. His shy personality added to his continued isolation from his peers, and while other kids his age were out hanging and chilling, Ray Allen was doing what he did best, shooting the basketball.
At a time when the game was still adapting to the 3-point situation, Allen had perfected the outside shot and came into the league with the most silky, natural and perfect shooting style the game will ever see. No player past and present comes even close to Allen’s technique and that is evident when you look at his career.
Earlier in his career, Allen had a more all round game, driving to the basket with as much ease as taking a jump shot. He was drafted by the Milwuakee Bucks in the famous class of ’96, and immediately took the flagging franchise to a new level. He was subsequently transferred to the Seattle Supersonics, and would play in the city till he signed for the Boston Celtics in 2007. It was in Seattle where Allen enjoyed his best years, becoming one of the best shooting guards in the league. He was a perennial all-star and regularly made it to the top scoring list of players. He single-handedly carried the Sonics franchise, but could never win big in the playoffs. It was not for lack of talent or practise, it was simple case of his teammates just not being good enough for him.
In 2007, Allen would sign for the Celtics along with Kevin Garnett to join Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, to form the first modern day super team. All these superstars were waiting for a first chance at championship glory, having long been denied due to the mediocrity of their teammates. When the fab four finally came together, Boston would runaway with the regular season and make it to the finals, to face Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers. In the finals, Celtics would dominate the series and close out in 6 games to give Ray Allen his first title. They would make it to another final two years later, but this time the Lakers would come out on top.
Allen would embark on another journey in 2013 when he signed with the Miami Heat to partner LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. It was here that he hit possibly the most famous shot of his career and one of the most iconic ones in NBA playoff history.
In game 6 of the Finals, facing elimination, Heat were trailing the San Antonio Spurs by 3 points with seconds left on the clock. Allen took up his customary position outside the three point line in the corner. As the clock was winding down, LeBron took the shot and Heat fans watched in agony as the ball cannoned off the rim. However, tears turned into madness as Chris Bosh somehow managed to grab the rebound and pass the ball to Allen. With no time left, Allen let fly from the corner on a catch and shoot, and the ball went in as the buzzer sounded. The game went into overtime and the Heat would close out in game 7 at home. The Greatest shooter in the NBA had struck again, to win his second championship. He was never given due credit for his talents and accomplishments, mostly because of his shy and unassuming nature.
Ray Allen’s records are unlikely to stand the test of time with the three-point shot becoming the norm these days, but for the two decades there was no better shooter and had he been born in this era, it is hard to imagine the kind of records he would have set.
Photo by Keith Allison