Yesterday, one of the all time greats officially announced their retirement from the NBA. With a letter to his younger self, Ray Allen let us know that his career has come to an end. Though he hasn’t played since 2014, every once in awhile, some rumors would start to swirl around that Allen might return to help out a contender. Well, you can forget that now, so instead, let’s remember the career of one of the NBA’s greatest shooters.
Drafted fifth overall in the 1996 Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Allen was quickly traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. In his first game, he squared off against fellow rookie, and eventual fellow legend, Allen Iverson. In a 111-103 Bucks win, Allen, starting in the backcourt alongside none other than Sherman Douglas, scored 13 points on 3-10 shooting, although he appropriately shot 2-3 from three point land. It wasn’t long until he established himself as a star, averaging 22 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists from 1999-2002, while shooting a robust 43% from downtown. He won the 2001 Three Point Contest, and helped lead the Bucks to within one win of the NBA Finals (they’d lose the Eastern Conference Finals in seven games against the aforementioned Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers).
During the 2002-2003 season, Allen was traded to the Seattle Supersonics, a team that used to exist in the NBA. While in the Pacific Northwest, his shooting and scoring became even more prolific. In his four full seasons with the Sonics, he averaged 24.8 points a game, and in 2006, he set a new NBA season record by hitting 269 three pointers, a mark that has since been eclipsed by Steph Curry. On January 12, 2007, he sprung for a career high 54 points against the Jazz. Check it out…
What stands out to me in that video, besides his incredible shooting, is how he zooms around the court without the ball, knifing his way from one side to the other to get open for those three pointers. He played each and every game like that, expending so much energy just to get himself open for one of his trademark threes. You’ll also note that he hit a bunch of clutch shots in that game, including the game tying three to send it into overtime. You can also see that he had many other ways to score besides launching threes, but there’s no doubt that his silky smooth three pointers are what he’ll be remembered for most.
With all the threes and high scoring, the one thing that was missing from Allen’s career was Playoff success. Through his first eleven seasons, he’d only been to the Playoffs four times, with his most successful run being that 2001 visit to the Eastern Conference Finals with the Bucks. After the 2006-07 season, in which he averaged a career high 26.4 points a game, but also played in only 55 games due to an ankle injury, he was traded to the Boston Celtics on Draft Night. Later that summer, Boston added Kevin Garnett to team with Allen and incumbent Celtics star Paul Pierce. Suddenly, things were looking up for Allen’s Playoff prospects.
It didn’t take long for Allen to show Celtics fans what they were getting into, hitting a game winning three in the second game of the season to beat the Raptors.
That year, the Celtics went 66-16 and made it to the Finals. There, Allen rose to the occasion in Game 4, playing all 48 minutes and scoring 19 points and grabbing 9 rebounds in what would become the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history, clinching the victory with a layup in the final seconds, after the Celtics had trailed by as many as 24 points earlier in the game. In Game 6, he tied a Finals record by hitting seven three pointers as the Celtics closed out the series with a resounding 131-92 victory. It’d be the only championship those Celtics teams would win, but not nearly Allen’s only memorable moments.
In the legendary 2009 first round battle between the Celtics and the Bulls, Allen went off for 51 points in Game 6, and that was after hitting a game winning three in Game 2. In 2010, the Celtics were once again fighting for a championship, where in Game 2, Allen set a Finals record by hitting 8 three pointers.
He wasn’t done making three point history! In 2011, he became the NBA’s all time leader in three pointers made.
I actually remember where I was when this happened: a bar in Somerville, Massachusetts. What better place to be than that for such a momentous occasion? After a couple more Playoff runs with the Celtics, Allen would turn down their contract offer and sign with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat.
Down in Miami, Allen came up with one more legendary moment, likely the one he’ll be remembered for most. In Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, with the Heat trailing 3-2 in the series, and 95-92 in the final seconds of the game, Chris Bosh corralled an offensive rebound, found Allen over in the corner, and, well…
Not only did the Heat go on to win the game in overtime, they’d go on to win the series in Game 7, netting Allen his second championship ring. He’d play one more season, and make another Finals with the Heat in 2014, but the Spurs would get their revenge in five games. After that, Allen was a free agent, and as I mentioned before, every so often, you’d hear some rumors about some team maybe signing him. It never ended up happening, however, and now here we are. A letter to his younger self, announcing the end of a legendary career.
Perhaps the most striking thing about all of these embedded Ray Allen videos is the consistency with his shot. No matter what point he was in his career, that shot always had the same mechanics. He was famously meticulous about his workout and shooting regimen, even saying that he had “a borderline case of OCD“. His commitment to his routine makes him, at least in my mind, one of the more unique legends in NBA History. It’s how he was able to zig-zag through defenses to get open for all of those threes, and it’s how he could get those threes off so quickly when the ball finally came around to him.
Loyal readers of The Bonus know that we’re big Celtics fans, and if you’ll remember, when Kevin Garnett retired, there was a big gushing portion of the career retrospective I wrote from my Celtics fan perspective about how special he was to us. I can’t speak to how the Bucks, Sonics and Heat fans feel about him, but he doesn’t enjoy the same revered status here in Boston that his teammates Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce do. Maybe it’s because he was the quieter of the three. He seemed more serious and reserved than Pierce and KG with their big personalities. Maybe it’s because after he hit those 8 three pointers in Game 2 of the 2010 Finals, he struggled the rest of the series, which saw the Celtics fall in seven. Personally, I remember towards the end of the lockout shortened 2011-2012 season. The Celtics had a horrible bench, made more horrible by an injury to Allen which pulled Avery Bradley into the starting lineup. Bradley ended up playing well with the starters, and when Allen returned, he was brought off the bench. I remember he wasn’t happy about it, and he only regained his starting spot when Bradley got hurt in the Playoffs. The team dragged themselves to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but they finally ran out of gas against the Miami Heat. Of course in the off season, the Celtics gave Allen a contract offer, but he took less money to join the Heat, where he’d come off the bench, which he was supposedly upset about. It wasn’t exactly Kevin Durant leaving OKC, but I remember it leaving a bad taste in my mouth, and the mouths of many other Celtics fans (gross).
I wish it could have been a different ending to his time in Boston. There were so many great moments for the Celtics while he was here, and he was responsible for many of them. There’s the ones I already mentioned, and more, like big shots against the Knicks in the 2011 Playoffs, the 2008 All Star Game, in which he went nuts in the 4th quarter and should have won the MVP (LeBron did instead), and just how fun it was to watch him play for my team as he worked so hard to run non-stop around the court, just to get open for a fraction of a second, which was all he needed to launch another three. I hope in time the ambivalence towards him up here in Boston fades, and he can be remembered properly, as a key member of one of the greatest stretches of Boston Celtics history.
Even if he’s never fully historically embraced here in the Boston area, his legacy as an NBA legend is secure. Two championships, ten All-Star Games, countless clutch shots over the years, and his name engraved in the league’s record books, Allen has nothing left to prove to anyone. All there’s left to do is wish him a happy, and meticulous, retirement.