Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| October 16, 2006
doesn't have to work this hard. He doesn't have to arrive hours before games or stay late after practice to get up his shot attempts and make sure his form is perfect. He doesn't have to bike and run throughout the summer to report to training camp in excellent physical condition. The Seattle SuperSonics guard is good enough to take shortcuts, but dedicated enough to choose not to.
How rare is the combination?
"He makes it an art form - his dedication and his attention to detail."
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
"Very rare," says Sonics Assistant Coach Gordon Chiesa
, who knows work ethic and talent from his 16 years as an assistant in Utah. "Some guys are dedicated because their talent level is only average. His talent level is superior and so is his dedication."
For Allen, 2005-06 was a defining season. Not so much for his play, despite the fact that he averaged a career-high 25.1 points per game and set an NBA record with 269 3-pointers, but for his dedication. With the Sonics bound for the lottery, Allen could easily have mailed in the second half of the season. Instead, his continued focus was key to the Sonics strong finish to the season (aided by consecutive Allen game-winners in late March against San Antonio and Memphis).
"I can't give you a word that describes how I think of him," Coach Bob Hill said prior to the Sonics season finale. "Really. To go through this season, as difficult and as frustrating as it has been at times, for him to approach practice the way he did every day, games the way he does every day, he's so disciplined.
"I brought him in here a few weeks ago and said to him, 'I hope you don't think what you're doing is going unnoticed.' He said, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'You're 30 years old, you've got a little bit of a tough ankle. We're not going anywhere and you're practicing hard.' He said, 'Yeah, but this is about next year.' That's where his head is. I give him credit."
For Hill, last season was an opportunity to learn about Allen's habits. He had seen Allen the player, renowned as the world's best shooter and a six-time All-Star, including each of his three full seasons in Seattle. He had seen Allen score 41 points in the Eastern Conference Finals against Philadelphia in 2001, then top it by going for a franchise-record-tying 45 points in Game 4 of the Sonics opening-round series with Sacramento in 2005. But Hill didn't know about Allen's dedication.
"I didn't get a feel for him until the season started," says Hill. "Then he really defined himself late. He's in the top two or three of the best professional players I've ever coached."
Given that Hill has coached future Hall of Famers like Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller, Shaquille O'Neal and David Robinson, as well as leaders like Avery Johnson, that qualifies as high praise.
Since joining the Sonics, Chiesa - who worked with John Stockton and Karl Malone, most notably, during his time with the Jazz - has had his own epiphany about Allen's work ethic.
"I could tell, but to the level? No," Chiesa says. "Being around him, he makes it an art form - his dedication and his attention to detail. Think about it - a lot of guys have a hard time shooting during the preseason because they're not in rhythm yet. Ray's ready to go right now. I'm impressed by him. He's a pro's pro.
"His dedication is really sensational. I would say he's in the top 10 percent in the NBA as far as being dedicated."
The focus now for Allen is to become more of a factor at the defensive end of the court. Last season, he drew praise from Hill for taking more charges than he ever had before. Chiesa sees progress this year as well.
"His defense has certainly improved and he's making a commitment to it," says Chiesa.
Off the court, Allen is hoping to maintain great physical condition even as he enters his 30s, when time begins to catch up with many NBA players. While you couldn't tell by looking at him, Allen does see his body changing a bit with age.
"Right now, I weigh probably the most I've weighed," he says. "I came in here and I weighed 207. My body fat percentage when I started training camp was 7.8 and now I'm down to 6.5. That's probably the most percent of body fat I've had. When I was in Milwaukee, I was down at 3.8 and that's probably the lowest I've ever been. I think during the season I'll probably get down to 5 and keep it at 5."
Allen has always taken great care of his body, but now he has to take even more care to watch his diet. His inspiration - an ageless wonder who's still going strong in the playoffs. The baseball playoffs.
40TH ANNIVERSARY TEAM
Allen is one of 16 players on the Sonics 40th Anniversary Team, including co-Wild Card picks Sam Perkins and Slick Watts. The 40th Anniversary Team will be honored at the Nov. 5 Sonics game with the L.A. Lakers ().
"I started trying to eat more nuts and blueberries - take a page out of Julio Franco's playbook," says Allen. "It's magnificent for him to be able to be 48 and playing baseball and he's helping the team win games. There's never really a set age limit in each individual sport when you retire, but you definitely do yourself a favor by watching your body and what you eat."
Besides his own performance, there is another key benefit that Allen's dedication provides to the Sonics. He is the ultimate role model for young players looking to figure out how to succeed in the NBA. After making the Sonics as an undrafted free agent, Damien Wilkins shadowed Allen much of his rookie season.
"What's the saying - Imitation is the best form of flattery? Damien, since the day he got here, has asked me questions," Allen told reporters during the 2005 playoffs. "He's asked me everything. It's like he's a sponge."
The relationship paid off when Wilkins emerged as a key reserve for the Sonics. Now that Wilkins has two seasons of NBA experience, Allen has moved on to new projects, notably second-round pick Denham Brown - like Allen a shooting guard from UConn.
"He's really reached out to try to help Denham this year, and he has helped Denham," says Hill. "He was struggling when he got here, and Ray really helped them. I think Ray sets an example for a lot of them. He doesn't spend the time (with all of them), because he can't, but he helps them. Seattle's very fortunate to have him in a lot of ways."
That list of ways is long, but it starts with Allen's work ethic and professionalism.