SAN ANTONIO — Perhaps Ray Allen will never be embraced in Boston until that 10-year championship reunion, which is a not-so-distant four years away, and yet there is something to appreciate about his presence in the NBA Finals.
One month before his 39th birthday, Allen remains an NBA fixture, attempting to win his second title in two years with the Miami Heat. His defection to Miami in the summer of 2012 was the first indication that the Celtics’ Big Three era was close to a conclusion.
And the trades of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets a year later served as the bitter ending. All three played this season with championship aspirations, Pierce and Garnett still not speaking to Allen for his controversial decision to turn down twice the money in Boston to head south.
Pierce, and especially Garnett, showed signs of aging this season. It’s not that Allen didn’t — he averaged a career-low 9.6 points and his 3-point percentage dropped to 37.5 — but he still has the propensity for the big shot and still cannot be left open, making the Heat even more difficult to defend.
It’s no shock that Allen is aging gracefully. Dating to his days in Seattle, he would warn teammates about filling up on chicken tenders and French fries mere hours before games. Without being too preachy, he tried to set an example for his younger teammates in Boston about the importance of longevity, but it’s difficult to convince a 22-year-old that fried chicken fingers with thick barbecue honey sauce isn’t an essential part of a daily regimen.
“I got ridiculed, I remember, by a friend of mine when I stopped eating fried chicken, early in my years in the NBA,” Allen said. “He couldn’t believe it. He thought I was an impostor. ‘I can’t believe you stopped eating fried chicken.’ Like I just have to. It’s the evolution of me as a person and my character. I wanted to play for a long time. That’s what it’s all about.
“The ones who have made it, that have won championships, that have done great things individually, they had to sacrifice something. It’s not an easy thing to do. When you sacrifice something, you alienate something or someone. When you hoist the trophy or win the scoring title, you always tell yourself that it’s worth it.”
And the journey has been worth it for Allen; the criticism for leaving Boston, the sacrifice of coming off the bench on an established team that had just won a championship and the discipline of remaining ready for the moments, just as he was during his stunning jumper in Game 6 of last year’s Finals that sent it into overtime.
So Allen walked into AT&T Center with more clout than an aging player hanging on. He still owns big-shot ability. He remains a threat from any spot on the floor and his fundamentals are as pure as during his prime.
Allen makes no apologies for being nearly 39 years old. He has played the most regular-season games of anyone from his draft, 13 more than Derek Fisher and 55 more than Kobe Bryant. He has etched his role in Miami as a sharpshooter, a floor-stretching guard who makes the most of his minutes.
It’s not the role he had in Boston, not even close. But Allen has gratefully accepted a reduced responsibility for an opportunity to win more rings.
“It’s always funny because being my age and playing this game, so many people always make it seem like it’s a bad thing,” he said before the Heat took the floor for a brief practice prior to Game 1 vs. the Spurs.
“You hear comments. People post stuff [online], talk about how old I am,” said Allen. “It doesn’t bother me because I appreciate it. For me, it’s more a celebration than it is a curse that people try to make me feel like I’m not supposed to be here.”
Watching most of his draft class and contemporaries retire or decline is not lost on Allen. The extremely prideful Garnett scored 8.3 points fewer per game with the Nets than his final year in Boston and he scored 2 points in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Heat. Pierce showed flashes of the “Truth” but his numbers were down considerably from his final year with the Celtics.
It’s not that Allen is in his prime. He isn’t. But he is being resourceful with his career, cashing in on his early-career decisions to take care of his body. Roughly 10 years ago, when Allen’s contract expired with the Sonics, general manager Rick Sund told the 29-year-old shooting guard that he would begin losing steam by age 33, so a five-year deal was inconceivable.
Allen signed a five-year deal.
“I told him I’m not the normal 29 going to be a 33-, 34-year-old player,” he said. “I take care of myself. I always have and I’ll be ready to play. If I’m doing my job and helping teams win, that is what is most important to me. We all have our declines at different times because Paul’s body is different from mine and KG’s is and Tim Duncan is so much different, so I appreciate the challenge to be on top of my game and figure out ways to improve how I am on and off the court.”