How do we judge Ray Allen given the evidence of Monday night when the Boston Celtics crew, title winners in 2008, title losers in 2010, went all in on Ray Allen and not in a positive way. Friends break up. It’s life. But the residue of hurt feelings that should have been buried still are raw when it comes to Ray departing for the Miami Heat to win a title. Leaving the Celtics, ending The Big Three- the first superteam- keeping his friends in the dark, still rankled all these years later to the point of bitterness. Before Monday, most of us would have thought of Ray as a good teammate and a good friend. The five left behind in 2012, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis- wanted us to know we were wrong.
The NBA has a history of breakups creating drama because one party decided to not tell the other. Shaq never told Penny. KD never told Russ. But everyone gets back together after a while. Five years of silence seems extreme. If Shaq and Kobe can mend fences anyone can. But it is way more complicated because Ray Allen didn’t just leave. He cut his friends out, he exiled them. I don’t know about you, I call my friends at some point. So maybe what we are really talking about here is a friendship that was more one sided than KG and the boys thought. What if it was a work friendship only? Once the work was done the friendship ceased to matter. Of course there are things that go on behind the scenes that are not for public consumption but from what the eye can see, when someone leaves a family and doesn’t look back it’s because he doesn’t want to look back.
Ray Allen hasn’t been shy about his reasons for fleeing Boston. In the past, he has attached the right amount of emotion when talking about the difficulty of leaving the city he won a title for. He has acknowledged it was a hard thing to do even if it was the right thing to do. As the Boston crew pointed out, Ray was having his issues with Doc playing a young Avery Bradley as Ray was getting older and there was no love lost between him and Rondo. Regardless, if any skills had started to erode, a Hall of Fame player is prideful and wants to be who he once was. He told Dan Patrick when he left, “It was tough all across the board.”
We honor players like Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant who stayed with one franchise their entire career. We eviscerate the leavers, the ring chasers: Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, Ray Allen, Kevin Durant. We want to believe we are loyal and they are not and so we are better humans. We want to believe it says something about them, that they are willing to slam a book closed to get a title, that they are cold enough to let people go. That they forget while we remember.
As a kid, Ray Allen was used to moving around the world- his family was military- and leaving old friends and finding new friends and absorbing cultures and learning habits was commonplace. He was used to goodbyes.
Ray, when talking about his younger self, uses the term “outsider.” He remembers being told he talked like a white boy. Blending in had always been an issue for Ray and that is what makes the Celtic divorce so compelling as a story. He longed for loyalty and then turned his back on it.
The NBA is cold and cruel and in many cases players are out for themselves. The Celtics, thanks to Doc Rivers, created a soldier’s narrative. Ray coming from a military family, you would think, would attach to it and never want to leave. Everything about the Celtics was perfect.
But he left.
Ray wrote in the Players Tribune, “But if I’m being real with you, what you’ll realize after you win the first title is that the thrill is fleeting. The vindication is fleeting. If you only chase that high, you’re going to end up being very depressed.” But Ray did exactly that, chase the high.
“Do you want to fit in or do you want to embark on the lonely pursuit of greatness.” (Ray Allen).
The lonely pursuit of greatness pushed Ray Allen out of Boston and out of the brotherhood, contradicting his own idealizations of chasing a high. He was two people at the same time. That he intentionally joined LeBron James and Dwyane Wade was a bitter pill for Boston Celtics to swallow and weigh with dispassion. One day he was here. The next day he was a traitor. The Celtics are confused. They want to know why? Why did he do this to them, not them the team, but them the men. The friends. The I have your back you have mine. Why?
Friendships are easy to define. You know a friend. You feel them. LeBron James is ride or die with the friends he had in 9th grade. Ray Allen tossed aside friends he made in Boston. Yes, some care more about it than others. And some care more about winning than others. Ray wanted to win; he couldn’t waste years. The only team who was going to win in the east was Miami.
The last game for Ray Allen as a member of the Boston Celtics was June 9, 2012, game 7 in Miami. His 15 points was his third highest of his 18 game playoff run. He played 38 minutes, a high for that year. His last shot as a Celtic was a 25 footer to give the Celtics the lead, 82-81. Two minutes passed before the Celtics scored again, a Brandon Bass mid-range. A LeBron James three put the Celtics to bed and the Big Three dynasty on death watch. Ray Allen was over in Boston. He was on in Miami.
The one’s left behind are the ones that can’t let go; that ‘s how it usually goes. So it makes sense, KG and Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins and Big Baby and Rondo feel betrayed and rejected. They feel Ray violated their brotherhood. Plus Ray won and with the enemy and that imagery is hard to get over. That and finding out via ESPN he was gone.
Now they get one more shot at a redo, Hall of Fame weekend. When Kevin Garnett is inducted Ray Allen will be there too, his final NBA moment. Ray planned it that way. One more reason to ask why? Was it passive aggressive on Ray’s part? Was it an olive branch to the Boston crew, I remember us, I remember who we used to be. We’re in the Hall together. Or, is it Ray having the last word. He has two titles, they have one. We will know four years from now. The past will really be the past. Or, it will be very icy in Springfield 2021.