The last loose thread of the Miami Heat dynasty, short lived as it was, has finally been stitched into the end of things quilt. Ray Allen announced his retirement and with it is this truth: there will never be a knock off copy of the Heat team 2010-2014. That team simply has no NBA peer in terms of fanaticism, hate, love, exceptionalism and brotherhood. No team ever had to endure as much, had to fight through rage, perception, cliches and general dislike.
In spite of all the outside noise, as teams go, the Heat were a special group, one for the ages. As teams go, they were a little bit less than advertised. They only won two championships. They didn’t live up to what was promised when they came together in that now legendary press conference. They expected the NBA earth to submit in the face of their exceptionalism. That didn’t happen.
The last Heat title was possible because of Chris Bosh and then Ray Allen; that was, in itself, a grand irony. The team that was all about LeBron James and Dwyane Wade was suddenly all about Chris Bosh and Ray Allen and Game 6. Just as Metta World Peace saved the legacy of Kobe Bryant with his 3-point shot in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, Ray Allen secured the legacy of LeBron James.
It was, in hindsight, a wonderful miraculous moment of destiny- what other explanation is there for the basketball gods having their hands in the middle of stuff- that brought everyone to their separate realities. Eventually. LeBron is in Cleveland. Dwyane is in Chicago. Ray Allen is retired now, soon to be in the Hall of Fame. And Chris Bosh is in limbo. What was a story of high expectations fizzled out in the end.
Being humiliated by the Spurs the year after Ray Allen’s miracle doesn’t tell the whole story about Ray Allen nor about the Miami Heat and what they accomplished that one glorious year and what they failed at the next year. It was billed as a happy ending in 2013. And then a miserable ending in 2014. And now in 2016, that entire team is dispersed, dismantled, disappeared.
Newly retired Ray Allen bristles and rightly so at the description that his shot that saved Miami’s season was a lucky shot. In that piece of linguistic miscue, he has company. Eleven years earlier, Robert Horry got a pass at the top of the key, the result of a missed shot that was batted out to him. He was standing alone. He drained the three to win the game which tied the Western Conference Finals at 2-2. Vlade Divac of the Sacramento Kings said afterwards, it was a “lucky shot.” To which Horry replied he had been making “lucky shots” all his career. Horry responded, if you don’t know, “you better ask somebody.”
You better ask somebody before you call Ray Allen’s shot lucky.
In the 2008 NBA Finals, in game four, Ray Allen sealed the game for the Celtics with a drive straight to the rim, a blow-by. He played the entire game. He had 19 points and 9 rebounds. The Celtics went up 3-1.
It made sense that Ray Allen would be a NBA Finals hero in 2008 and five years later in 2013. Ray Allen has always been consistently lethal if open for a jumper. When Allen was in Milwaukee, he beat the Nets by going right, stopping and draining a jumper for the win. When he was in Seattle, in a double overtime game, Allen drained a Steph Curry like 3-pointer to beat Phoenix. He had 42 points. In his second game as a Celtic, in Toronto, he buried the Raptors with a corner three with 2.6 seconds to go in overtime. He had 33 points. Three weeks later, a deflection bounced his way and at the buzzer he drained a three to demoralize the Bobcats. Against the 76ers, he got a pass from Pierce and drained a three for the win. In double overtime, in Boston, in the playoffs, he drained a three over Joakim Noah to beat the Bulls and a young Derrick Rose.
Ray Allen had a famous feud with Kobe Bryant who he considered selfish and arrogant. It was a throwback to when players disliked each other, particularly when they played the same position. Ironically, the Jesus Shuttlesworth character Allen is known for (He Got Game) was originally intended for Bryant but he pulled out of the film to work on his game during the summer of 1997. Allen stepped in. It’s not clear which Hall of Fame class Allen will go in with, the Kobe, Duncan, Garnett class or the year after.
Bryant beat Allen in a one-on-one matchup in a regular season game in Boston, February 2010. With 7 seconds left, Kobe drained a fall away jumper, guarded by Allen. A few months later, Kobe would demoralize the Celtics with a game 7 victory in the NBA Finals. It was a brutal memory, up by thirteen and losing, so close but so far away. Allen had a nightmare of a game, missing most of his shots (as did Bryant). But Allen had the luxury of forgetting. He left the Celtics for the Heat which caused a lot of animus.
Former Celtics such as Pierce and Rondo have spoken about Allen not attending their personal and private functions while they were always at his. Ray is a mysterious no-show friend off the court, they implied, and then tried to pretty it up with, “that’s Ray being Ray.”
Pierce was especially stung when Allen left for Miami and didn’t get his calls returned. “We were brothers. We came in togehter. We just wanted a heads-up or what’s on your mind or something like that. Then, all of a sudden he left. That was the biggest disappointment on my end. Not even getting a calllback at that moment.”
Of his loner lifestyle criticism, Allen responded in his Players Triubne article. “When you get to the NBA, you won’t always play cards with the boys. Some people will assume you’re not being a good teammate.”
Of course he wouldn’t be Rajon Rondo if he didn’t throw shade Ray Allen’s way. The two had a rocky relationship. “I thought he already was retired”, Rondo tweeted.
But that mattered to no one in Game 6, hurt feelings and relationships fraying. Ray being Ray was about shot making. When the Heat were trailing and Chris Bosh secured a rebound and instinctively passed it to Allen, breaths held and then exploded. It wasn’t lucky. It was Ray Allen, the all time leading 3-point shot maker. He drilled the open three as the Spurs were scrambling. He had done it so many, many times before. Then in overtime, he stole a pass from Manu Ginobli and made two free throws. But it was that game tying three etched in the memory. It was his only three of the game.
His last NBA year, the end was coming. You could tell. He wasn’t the same. He looked old. As if that three point shot was his walk off legacy. In half the games he played, he scored less than 9 points. In 14 games, he didn’t make one three pointer. The best 3-point shooter had been betrayed by his body. After 18 years, his legs were exhausted. His last game in the NBA, Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Ray Allen made 1 out of 8 shots. Of course, that one was a three. He went to the line twice. He had one offensive rebound and four rebounds total. He had two assists, a steal and four turnovers. He scored 5 points in a San Antonio 17 point slaughter. He ended his career quietly, the way most players do, although he would wait for two years to announce it, to have peace.
In Ray Allen’s first game, 20 years ago today, he played 28 minutes and missed 7 out of 10 shots. But he drained 66.7% from the three point line. He had two rebounds and three steals and 13 points. He was going up against Allen Iverson (he had 30 points in his NBA debut), also drafted in 1996. Both are retired now. As is Kobe Bryant. And Steve Nash.
The great 1996 draft class is closed, a page in history. There was Kobe, the maniacal scorer-competitor. There was Nash the brilliant passer and leader. There was Iverson, the fearless one and cultural icon. And there was Ray Allen, the perimeter clutch scorer and surprising dunker. He brought a long awaited title to Boston against their hated nemesis, so they could celebrate twice. He cemented the Miami Big 3 legacy. He saved a city and franchise.
He made one shot everyone will remember. The shot heard around the world. He didn’t walk away then. Perhaps that would have been fairy tale. He is walking away now, when the lights in Miami are dim and the mood is about rebuilding. Ray Allen saved a lot with one game tying three. Miami will forever be in his debt.
photo via llannaba