It’s been a rough few months, publicly at least, for former NBA All-Star guard Ray Allen.
But we’re here on Allen’s 42nd birthday to present something that might qualify as a gift.
Allen’s legacy from his career of 18 NBA seasons got scuffed up a little last week with the news that Gordon Hayward, the Boston Celtics’ prize in free agency this summer, would wear No. 20, the same number Allen wore in five memorable season seasons from 2007 to 2012. That was seen as an indication the franchise that has honored so many jersey numbers would not be similarly honoring Allen in its rafters.
Early in this year’s playoffs, in an installment of Kevin Garnett’s “Area 21” feature on TNT, Allen was conspicuously missing from a reunion of that era’s Celtics, who won the NBA championship in 2008 and returned to the Finals two years later. Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins and Glen (Big Baby) Davis reminisced about their good times in Boston – and shared bitter feelings about Allen’s sudden departure for the rival Miami Heat in the summer of 2012.
“When we all talked about doing this reunion, we were talking about guys that we consider loyal, part of this group,” Garnett said, calling the situation with their uninvited teammate “very sensitive.” “Just being honest, my two cents, man, when Ray decided to go to the Heat, I feel like he moved on.”
Allen was traded by Seattle to the Celtics in 2007, a deal that convinced Garnett to approve a similar move from Minnesota. They teamed with fellow All-Star Pierce and raised the profiles of Rondo, Perkins and Davis, restoring Boston to a level of excellence it hadn’t known since the Larry Bird-Kevin McHale era almost two decades earlier. Under coach Doc Rivers, they led the franchise to a 273-121 (.693) regular season record.
The “Ubuntu” togetherness touted by Rivers got scuttled when Allen, displeased that his role might be changing, opted to sign with Miami. He helped the Heat of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh reach the last two of its four consecutive Finals. In the process, Allen earned a second championship ring and sank arguably the most famous shot in NBA Finals history in Game 6 of the 2013 championship series against San Antonio.
Allen played well enough for each of his employers to merit inclusion, personal animosities aside, in any reunions the Bucks, the Sonics, the Celtics or the Heat might have. And yet, splitting his career among four franchises does muddy the contributions he made at any one of those stops.
He still ranks first overall in 3-pointers made (1,051) for Milwaukee, but he’s ninth in scoring overall, ninth in free-throw attempts, 10th in field goal attempts and eighth in steals. Let’s not even get started on his Seattle legacy, since the SuperSonics’ archives are largely locked away and forgotten since the franchise’s relocation to Oklahoma City.
Boston has a bevy of players who won more than Allen’s single title or appeared in more than three All-Star Games while wearing the Green. And with Miami, Allen clearly filled a role different from his early and prime years, coming off the bench in 143 of 152 appearances and averaging half (10.3 ppg) of what he scored nightly (20.0) for 16 years.
The thing is, Allen will end up in the Hall of Fame whether his Boston buddies like it or not and, having played his last game more than three years ago, he probably will beat both Garnett and Pierce in getting there. It’s just that Allen is a member of a select group of great players who divvied up their careers across four or more franchises.
Retiring a player’s jersey?
That usually is reserved for the guys identified with one or maybe two teams. Typically the NBA’s most elite performers either stayed in one spot their entire careers or they had “cup of coffee” stays elsewhere at the start or near the end. When nostalgia kicks in, few of us left our memories drift to Michael Jordan’s Wizards days, Karl Malone’s forgettable final season with the Lakers or Patrick Ewing bouncing from Seattle to Orlando for some jarring imagery.
There have been a significant number of All-Stars and Hall of Famers who spent considerable chunks of their playing days with three clubs (for our purposes here, we’ll go by a minimum of 100 appearances with a team to define a “stay”). So that gets us legends such as Wilt Chamberlain, Charles Barkley, Dennis Johnson, Bob McAdoo, Tracy McGrady, Dennis Rodman, Lenny Wilkens, Artis Gilmore, Adrian Dantley, Mitch Richmond and Ricky Barry (for ABA alumni, that league had so much instability, we’ll lump all ABA stints together to reach the 100-game cutoff).
But four franchises or more? That’s rarer still. And understandably so – if a player is good enough, you figure one team or another is going to hang onto him before he shuffles off to join yet another roster.
Then again, with salary-cap limitations being what they are, combined with the lengthiest careers, we’re starting to see more and more “suitcase” situations among helpful, even valuable players. From Andre Miller, Marcus Camby and Antonio McDyess to Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Trevor Ariza. Each of them played 100 games or more for four or more different teams.
Allen ranks much higher than those guys, however. Factoring in championships won, All-Star selections and other achievements, here’s a countdown of NBA’s top 10 fab four-franchise fellows:
10. Kyle Korver, Philadelphia-Utah-Chicago-Atlanta
Ironically, Korver’s current team is the only one of five for which he has logged fewer than 100 games. He broke in with the Sixers, (337), got traded nearly a decade ago to the Jazz (180), spent two seasons with the Bulls (147), then blossomed deep in his career with the Hawks (332). One All-Star appearance and his trip with Cleveland to the Finals in June, along with his active status, got him on this list.
9. Walt Bellamy, Chi./Balt.-New York-Detroit-Atlanta
Bellamy’s Hall of Fame career is famous for being front loaded. He averaged 27.8 points and 16.7 rebounds in his first four seasons with the team that became the Baltimore Bullets, earning All-Star nods each year. He never got back there but brought value (16.7 ppg, 12.3 rpg) to the Knicks, Pistons and Hawks (with a one-game farewell in New Orleans) over his final 10 seasons.
8. Jamal Crawford, Chicago-New York-Atlanta-L.A. Clippers
Crawford has evolved from a miscast point guard who never averaged more than 5.1 assists to a high-volume starter to a lethal scorer off the bench. He has earned three Sixth Man of the Year awards, one with the Hawks and two with the Clippers. At 37, he has played long enough to wedge in stays with Golden State and Portland that don’t qualify under our 100-appearance threshold, and now he’s headed to Minnesota to get buckets off the bench while providing veteran wisdom to the youngish Timberwolves.
7. Sam Cassell, Houston-N.J.-Milwaukee-Minnesota-L.A. Clippers
Cassell earned rings in his first two seasons in the NBA as part of Hakeem Olajuwon’s Rockets crew. His travels as a crafty mid-range scorer and organizer of halfcourt offenses included brief stops in Phoenix, Dallas and Boston, along with the longer stays noted above. He scored his only All-Star selection in 2004, his 11th season, as part of the best Timberwolves team yet.
6. Bernard King, N.J.-Golden State-N.Y.-Washington
King, a 2013 Hall of Fame enshrine, didn’t just have a fragmented career; he had one that was nearly splintered for good thanks to the devastating knee injury he suffered while with the Knicks. He was a three-time All-Star fresh off the 1985 scoring title when he went down, but worked himself back to regain All-Star status in 1991. A professional scorer, King averaged at least 20 ppg for each of the four franchises that employed him the longest.
5. Dikembe Mutombo, Denver-Atlanta-Philadelphia-Houston
The league’s most famous finger-wagger arrived at age 25 and stuck around till 43, if you believe the best available birth records. He won four Defensive Player of the Year awards and was named to nine All-Star teams, a double-double contributor who ranks second to Olajuwon among modern NBA shot-blockers (Chamberlain and Bill Russell did their swatting before blocks were an official stat). Mutombo was a midseason pickup who helped the Sixers reach the 2001 Finals, while with Houston his numbers dropped in a mentoring role for Yao Ming.
4. Vince Carter, Toronto-N.J.-Dallas-Memphis
Carter just barely missed matching Cassell on this list with at least 100 games in five NBA stops, playing 97 games in two seasons in Orlando. He has extended by half, at least, what some assumed would be a shorter career given his early run as that Half-Man, Half-Amazing dunker. Carter took his game outside over his time with the Raptors and the Nets, then re-invented himself again with Dallas and Memphis as a veteran reserve. Now he’s off to Sacramento for his 20th season in 2017-18.
3. Ray Allen, Milwaukee-Seattle-Boston-Miami
Allen earned 10 All-Star selections – three with the Bucks, four with the Sonics and three with the Celtics – before filling his assassin’s role with the Heat. He became more of a 3-point specialist over time, while getting to four Finals and winning two after turning 32. And to think, the team that drafted him – Minnesota, trading him to Milwaukee immediately for Stephon Marbury – didn’t get a minute of the 52,408 regular-season or postseason minutes he played.
2. Moses Malone, ABA-Houston-Philadelphia-Washington-Atlanta
Malone played 126 games in the ABA for Utah and St. Louis to get things rolling, making the All-Star team as a teen with Utah. In the NBA, he earned that status over 12 consecutive seasons from 1978 through 1989, mixing in three Most Valuable Player awards, two trips to the Finals and a title with the Sixers in 1983 – all while getting traded twice and signing with Atlanta as a free agent for his final All-Star season. The relentless offensive rebounder changed teams three more times in his athletic dotage, ultimately collecting checks from nine franchises.
1. Shaquille O’Neal, Orlando-L.A. Lakers-Miami-Phoenix
If you don’t remember much about Shaq’s 103 games in Phoenix, know this: The Suns were 61-42 when he played and he averaged 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds in 30 minutes nightly while hitting 60.9 percent of his shots and making his 15th All-Star appearance – at age 36. What came before of course was even better, with six trips to the Finals with the Magic, the Lakers and the Heat, and four championships. A Rookie of the Year award, one MVP, two scoring titles and three appearances on all-defensive teams got him to Springfield last year, and spreading himself across four teams (with brief stops in Cleveland and Boston) got him to the top of this class.
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