Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| August 3, 2005
The relationship between a sports team and an athlete has been compared to a marriage, and after he officially came to terms on a new five-year deal to stay with the Seattle SuperSonics, five-time All-Star guard Ray Allen
made it clear that he believes in this theory.
"There was a day I talked to the Clippers [during the period when free agents were allowed to negotiate with teams but not sign contracts], and I think the minute I got off the phone with them, I got a phone call from Luke (Ridnour)," said Allen. "Luke was asking me, 'Hey buddy, what's going on? You know we need you back. You have to re-sign back with us. Give me a call and let me know what's up.' I felt so bad because I felt like I was cheating on him. I felt like I couldn't call Luke back right then because I had just talked to the Clippers, and I didn't want to disappoint him like that."
In the end, Allen's decision to stay in Seattle had little to do with money and much to do with the teammates who, along with Allen, claimed the inaugural Northwest Division Championship in 2004-05. It was only fitting, then, that Sonics Chairman Howard Schultz opened the team's most formal press conference in several years by presenting Allen with a framed copy of the limited edition painting of the Sonics trademark postgame huddle, a symbol of the team's unity.
"Something like that, that sums up last season. When I look at that 20 years from now, it tells a story."
"That was great," said Allen. "I'll put that in my house, on my wall. Something like that, that sums up last season. When I look at that 20 years from now, it tells a story."
When the NBA's free agency period opened on July 1, Allen was in the Washington offices of his agent, Lon Babby. Calls poured in from several teams interested in the player with the highest 2004-05 scoring average of any free agent on the market, but Allen did not hear the kind of persuasive sales pitch he was hoping to hear.
"I wanted somebody to say something that knocked me off my feet, and I was very disappointed," he said.
Today was different. Today, as he spoke from the podium with Babby, Sonics General Manager Rick Sund and new Head Coach Bob Weiss, signing his contract in front of the media and Sonics staff, Allen was "definitely" knocked off his feet.
"I remember the last press conference I did in Milwaukee, I might have had on a sweatshirt," he said. "For this organization to state how much it meant to them for me to re-sign with them definitely means a lot to me."
From their end, the Sonics brass left little doubt that this was one of the most important signings and most important days in the history of the franchise.
"This is a milestone for our franchise and our ownership group," said Schultz. "We knew going into the off-season that the most important component to the future of the Seattle SuperSonics would be the re-signing of Ray Allen. On the behalf of all of us, we could not be more pleased or more proud to have Ray continue with what he started last year, and that is making the Seattle SuperSonics an elite team in the NBA."
"It was our number one priority in the off-season," said Sund. "He's really taken this team under his control in terms of leadership."
The negotiation process between the Sonics and Allen on a new deal, one that started last summer and lasted a year, was termed one of the longest in NBA history by Sonics President and CEO Wally Walker. At no time, however, did it turn contentious.
"At the end of the day, what brought me back here was my players, the guys that I played with. That meant the most to me, more than anything."
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty
"We wanted to make sure that we had a deal that made sense for Ray and made sense for the Sonics in our quest to be one of the elite teams in the NBA," said Sund.
"I don't think the process ever broke down. We never put a timetable to it. Both sides proceeded in a spirit of cooperation to try to get it done."
Throughout the process, both sides did their best to keep negotiations out of the media. It was only today that Allen revealed how trying the negotiations had been on him at times, in no small part because of the media's relentless interest in how they were progressing.
"I think the toughest thing was everybody asking me whether it was going to get done or not," Allen explained. "I think in my mind I started wondering, was it going to get done? I wasn't worried, by no means. What I had confidence in was my ability and what I could go do. Just whether it would get done with this team I didn't know. That was the uncertainty. A lot of it had to do with what direction this team might be moving in in the future."
Ultimately, the impetus of Allen becoming a free agent was necessary to finish the negotiation process and produce a contract. Allen had offers he described as similar from multiple teams, but it was the quality of his teammates on and off the court that made the difference in his decision to re-sign with the Sonics.
"At the end of the day, what brought me back here was my players, the guys that I played with," said Allen. "That meant the most to me, more than anything. I know who Rashard (Lewis) is. I know who Luke and Nick (Collison) are and Danny (Fortson). I don't know with those other guys. This is where I've made home, and I didn't want anything different. I didn't need anything different.
"Just knowing the potential of my teammates, this organization, there was no other place I would rather be. As the summer went along, there were a couple of teams that I did speak with, and I didn't think they could shake a stick at what this organization had to offer me as a player, this city as a person. As I look around the room, there's so many people that I've grown strongly to admire and to work alongside. Me signing back here with Seattle was my goal the whole time, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to do that and be back here another five years."