MIAMI — The basketball court inside FTX Arena is encircled by a thin yellow out-of-bounds line, and it would be inconspicuous if you didn’t understand or know the reason for the paint color. You might say it’s the Line That Ray Allen Created.
Allen is, of course, a Hall of Famer and the maker of one of the greatest shots in NBA history, when he swished a 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left in regulation that tied Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals with the Heat on the verge of elimination. The shot was made from the southeast corner of the court, in front of Courtside South Seat AA6, after Chris Bosh rebounded a LeBron James miss and flicked a pass to Allen. Miami eventually won in overtime over the Spurs and that helped the Big Three of LeBron, Bosh and Dwyane Wade claim a second of two championships.
Anyway: In the timeout before that possession, arena security upon instruction began surrounding the floor with a yellow rope to keep fans away, in full anticipation of a Spurs’ championship-clinching victory celebration. When Allen hit that shot, he screamed something to the effect of, “Get that rope off the court!” And so the yellow border stands as a salute to Allen and the greatness he made happen.
That shot didn’t define Allen’s career; actually, it was the exclamation point for a player recognized as one of the greatest shooters of all time, if not ever. Allen was textbook and fluid with the ball in his hands and the rim in his focus. Defenders left him open at their own peril, which was considerable; Allen scored 24,505 points for his career and averaged 18.9 points over 18 seasons. That helped him win championships with the Celtics and Heat and made him a 10-time All-Star.
He’s mainly known for mastering the 3-point shot; Allen held the career mark for 3-pointers made until Stephen Curry broke it a few weeks ago, and Curry’s pursuit of that record reeled Allen back into national prominence. Yeah: Whatever became of Ray Allen?
Well, for starters, he was named to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team. And he kept his family in Miami, where he coaches at Gulliver Prep, where his four boys attend. Also, he and his wife own and operate Grown, a local restaurant with a menu geared toward healthy eating.
Allen has been known for being one of the league’s more thoughtful and perceptive players, and for his professionalism, all of which were apparent during a recent sit-down for an interview.
Here in this Q&A, he discusses That Shot and what led to it, his stops in Milwaukee and Seattle and Boston in addition to Miami, the fractured state of his relationship with his former Celtics teammates, being high school teammates with the dad of Ja Morant, his intense battles with Kobe Bryant, and his frequent golf outings with President Obama, which are sometimes laced with fun trash talking. Presenting the best shooter and low scorer in Obama’s foursome, Ray Allen.
Editor’s Note: The following 1-on-1 conversation has been condensed and edited.
NBA.com: Steph Curry just broke your career record for 3-pointers made. You obviously have such a great amount of respect for him. What did that record mean to you?
Ray Allen: I didn’t feel I did anything special when I set it. I didn’t feel like I was shooting 3s on purpose to get a record, nor was this my mission. For me, being consistent over a long time, that’s what greatness adds up to, and that’s what it was like my whole career, doing the extra things which is what makes you extraordinary. So being a 3-point shooter was never my focus. I could shoot 3s but I could get to the hole and dunk, I liked the mid-range game, I could use my left hand around the basket. All those things are what I was for my whole career.
When did the 3-pointer suddenly come into focus for you and the public’s perception of you?
Once I got to Boston, I was playing in prime time, and based on the way we were playing, I’m suddenly no longer a pick-and-roll player, I’m no longer a post-up player, I’m strictly a space guy who can shoot the 3s. We did this because we had so many other great players.
Who do you consider the greatest shooter?
I wouldn’t put myself in the conversation. The greatest I’ve ever seen, someone who was amazing, was Dell Curry because of the way he shot so efficiently without moving with the ball. It was like he could throw the ball up there. But Reggie (Miller) was the greatest all-around shooter, being able to carry his team, he was an assassin. When you break it down, him being able to get to the free-throw line, great coming off screens, he wasn’t a pick-and-roll player but a guy you had to know where he was every moment of the game. Guarding him was hell for me.
Let’s discuss another type of shooting, and maybe your most passionate. We’re talking golf. You’re considered an elite golfer among pro athletes, someone with a single-digit handicap, and you’ve played regularly for two decades. You also happen to be a favorite of President Obama and you’re his first call when he’s putting together an outing. What’s it like teeing up with him?
The first couple times I played with him was nerve-racking because you had so many people around. Also, so many people told him I was a good golfer so you wanted to play well. I remember I played well the first time I played with him, and didn’t play so well the second time. Then he was making comments, like, ‘Aw man, what’s going on here? I didn’t expect you to do that.’ And I’m like, ‘I know you hold me in high regard, but this is not my profession, and even professional golfers have bad days.’ He talks more trash than you realize. There is a semblance of pressure that he tries to impose on you. But when we play, I’m always his partner because in the group I’ll be the lowest handicap, so he’s going to take that on his side to help get him the victory.
I imagine presidential work got in the way a few times with Obama, correct?
I remember one round we played on a Sunday, and some journalists in the Mideast were beheaded. He had the weekend off, and he was heavily criticized for playing golf while this took place. And I saw the ugly side of what people expect from him and the pressure that goes along with the job. He had to be able to get away from that to have some sanity. Seeing how he goes about his day with the daily briefing and with work, and then being able to play golf, and for it all to work out, it’s an all-encompassing mission. I try not to be nosy, but I’ll ask a question like, ‘So how did your day go?’ His chief of staff would bring him briefings. At the time, he had this huge dossier on Iran. He didn’t show it to me, but he said he had to understand it backward and forward.
He’s a big basketball fan and always seems willing to talk hoops. I’m sure that topic came up a few times, right? That was the natural bond between you two?
We talk a lot about basketball because he’s very fascinated about players and he knows a lot more than players would imagine. A friend of mine pointed out to me, ‘You’ve been more famous for a longer period than President Obama, so he watched you when nobody knew who he was.’ Well, put in that perspective, you understand that when you’re in a professional light, everybody sees you and in that world there’s a great level of respect. And I’ve seen and felt that from actors and entertainers and politicians. He’s always shown me that respect, just understanding who I’ve been in my career and he’s always appreciated me.
So you’re the envy of golfers right now, someone who hangs with Obama on a golf course, which seems as fun as it sounds. How often do you guys play?
Whenever he’s in town we play golf, when I’m in D.C. we play golf, and we play on (Martha’s) Vineyard in the summer. I appreciate being part of that circle of guys who plays golf with him. It’s great to have a circle of guys who you can talk trash to. A lot of my friends, Black guys who I grew up with, denounced golf. I said, ‘Brother, you would truly, truly enjoy it. Once you get your hooks in it, you’re not going to want to put it down.’ That’s where I’ve been the last 20 years. You realize it’s a good game, and unlike other sports, you can play it much longer.
Your thoughts on making the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team?
I thought making the Hall of Fame was the icing on the cake, and then this came, and it was a further validation of what I’ve done in this game and meant to people who watched me play. You know you did it for the right reasons, to push the agenda, make the game better, grow young people and their love for the game. To be accepted on the 75th team was an acknowledgment of the impact I had on the game.
I’ve always thought you can make a case for you being celebrated by all four teams you played on: Milwaukee, Seattle, Boston, Miami. You were the top player on the Bucks, one of the greatest Sonics ever, won a title in Boston and hit that shot in Miami. What’s your thoughts about those places?
Each team, you could make a case, and I’ve identified with all four teams. Going into Milwaukee was like a coming of age, learning and growing. But I used to complain that I could go anywhere in America and there were no Bucks hats in the stores. Nobody knew where Milwaukee was. People didn’t care, it was a small town. In Seattle, there was a little prestige because they won the title in the 70s. Seattle was hard to get to, but when people get there, they absolutely love it to death. But when I got to Boston, I felt for the first time that I had arrived. You’re playing prime time ball on the East Coast, we were on (national) TV often, and it was the first time I had no anonymity. I felt embraced by a nation with the Celtics being a storied franchise. My affinity for that place, to be able to win my first championship, more than any (other) place it had shown me what basketball really means to people. Having a nation of Celtics followers in love with the team and players was something I hadn’t seen or experienced.
There’s a rift that formed between you and the core members of that 2008 Celtics championship team: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. It apparently began when you left for Miami. Are there still hard feelings?
We don’t talk, sadly. I remember after we won in 2008, something that Kevin said, that we’re going to be brothers for life, that this is going to keep us bonded. Rip Hamilton and I are UConn brothers and champions and we’re connected for life. When he won in 2004 with the Pistons, they stayed connected and bonded. That’s something we’ve done a poor job as Celtics, keeping that bond connected. It’s not by my doing, either. The whole story of me leaving for Miami, regardless of that, it doesn’t change anything that we’ve done as a group. That group and what we did is historic. It’ll take cooler heads to prevail and for guys to say, ‘What are we mad about?’ There are so many other things happening in the world. We got to preach unity and togetherness, and for me, that’s always been my mantra. I don’t like the fact we haven’t talked. At some point, I’m sure we will have conversations and move this stuff past us.
Back for a second about that shot in Miami. That didn’t happen by accident. Your practice routine was legendary, along with the reps and repeats, time and time again. That shot was at least 20 years in the making, right? And what would’ve been the legacy of the Big Three had you missed?
That shot that I made, I took at least 30-40 times that day. But understand, all it took was one touch on that black line and it’s a different story. Just because my body was trained, I didn’t even have to think about it. I just knew to go to that line. I did it all day that day (in warmups) and I’d been doing it for years on top of years. It goes back to my training. I grew up in a military family and when you go to war it’s about the training. Once you go to war you can’t control what comes at you, but you can control how you stay calm and stay focused on how you’re prepared. We don’t know what’s going to come at us but we have to know how to make decisions. In that situation, I made a decision. I couldn’t think; I had to decide. Most athletes in those situations don’t understand how practice is so super important, just going through the rhythm of muscle memory when nobody’s in the gym so when the lights come on, you’re not guessing what you have to do. Players may grumble, ‘Oh, why do we have to do this again?’ Well, because it’s going to matter at some point. It may not be next game but at some point, it’ll happen and it’s going to come back to that preparation and that coach saying ‘Do it again.’
LeBron missed the game-tying shot on that possession. And if you miss, then history might not reflect so positively on LeBron with that miss. Does he send you a card every Christmas?
(Laughs) He does not but maybe you should say he should. Actually, people say I saved LeBron. Well, I saved myself. I had so much to be thankful for with that shot going in, but also so much thanks for LeBron making a 3-pointer two possessions before, and Mike Miller hitting a shot with his shoe falling off before that. So many things happened before that moment that put you in that situation. I don’t expect him to say thank you for saving me, because I didn’t. He did a lot of the heavy lifting and carried us throughout that year.
Another member of the 75th Anniversary Team is Kobe Bryant. The two of you had some spirited matches, as I recall, especially when you were with the Sonics and your teams played frequently. What were those games like?
Kobe and I were drafted together (in 1996). He wanted to prove he was going to be a player. There was a little jabbing at each other. Every time we played each other, we wanted to one-up each other. I think he knew I was drafted ahead of him (Allen was drafted fifth and Bryant taken 13th) and he wanted to prove he was better and was going to have a greater impact than me. I wanted to go at him and prove what happened (in the Draft) was because that’s what was supposed to happen. We were successful in our own right. It was epic to face each other in the 2008 and 2010 Finals, playing for the two most storied franchises. It was great theater.
January marks two years since he passed. What was your reaction?
I was very sad because I felt there was more relationship for us to have down the line. To be old heads, talking about the past and joking and forming a relationship. We’d spent so much time at each other’s throats, he’s trying to take away from me what I’m trying to do, and I’m trying to take away from him. So why would we walk out of this game and have animosity toward somebody, just because they were paid to do what you’re getting paid to do? It’s just a game. I would love to be able to sit down and laugh about things and be brothers in arms. I was headed to playing in a golf event in Hawaii and as I was in the air, the crash took place an hour into my flight, so by the time I landed in Hawaii, the person told me at the baggage claim. I couldn’t believe it. I had to sit and think about it. I felt for his family of course. And all the things we went through, I felt bad because we didn’t have a chance to make amends, not that we had any ill will. You want to be able to laugh and joke and smoke cigars but we never got that opportunity.
Discuss your decision to coach your sons’ high school basketball team.
I’m here to help people achieve greatness in their lives. Before I became coach, I would go to games and talk to my son at halftime and give information. I wanted to have restraint because I didn’t want to be overbearing. Then their coach moved on and I started thinking about what (the job) would entail and if I’d be willing to commit. I have four sons in this school, the youngest being nine and oldest being 17. I knew I would never regret spending time with my boys. I was already dropping them off at practice and picking them up and going to their games. What better use of my time than teaching them the game of basketball? The other night, JR Smith came to the game and came into the locker room at halftime. Now kids are exposed to different voices. We took them to a Heat game so they could see some of the things they were doing.
Next stop, an NBA bench in the future for you?
I always said I would never coach, and here I am coaching. So never is not a word I feel fond of. Obviously my kids are still young and still need me. I let the chips fall where they may and deal with it as it comes. I like what I’m doing now because I think when the dust settles, these kids will say, ‘I appreciate what you said and how hard you were on me.’
You and Tee Morant played high school ball together in the small town of Dalzell, South Carolina. His son is now on a stardom rise in Memphis with the Grizzlies. Guy by the name of Ja Morant, who also grew up in Dalzell. What’s the history there?
Tee was a homebody who didn’t want to get away from home after high school. That was something he didn’t want Ja to fall into. Watching me from afar and how I went to UConn and beyond, he was pushing Ja to get to where he is today. Tee has a lot to be proud of. He took his mishaps and misgivings and gave his son the foresight that, ‘We’re not going to make the mistakes I made. We’re going to put you in position to grow.’
Last question about Obama. I understand you can’t share too many secrets, but what was the most animated you saw him on the course?
It was myself, President Obama, Ahmad Rashad and Michael Jordan on the tee box. There was a lot of trash talking that started before the round, people discussing handicaps, finishing putts. I didn’t know if the Secret Service was going to step in and get one of us.
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