Jerome Allen wanted his 11-year-old son, Roman, to understand his journey, so he sat down with his book and read aloud the first chapter of “When the Alphabet Comes: A Life Changed by Exposure,” Allen’s just-released autobiography.
As Allen finished reading the first chapter aloud, Roman looked at him with a puzzled expression.
Jerome thought his son didn’t understand the chapter. That wasn’t the case. Roman had finished the chapter and thought dad read too slowly.
The two laughed.
It’s been a difficult few years for Allen, the former University of Pennsylvania coach and current Celtics assistant. He was indicted for his role in the “Varsity Blues” case, taking as much as $300,000 from a parent to get his son into Penn. Allen, who has been with the Celtics since 2016, agreed to a $200,000 fine and a 15-year-old show-cause penalty levied by the NCAA.
Allen, 47, decided to tell his story, detailing his troubled childhood, storied playing career at Penn, a 12-year career playing overseas before returning to his alma mater, eventually feeling the pressure to win, and succumbing to the lure of financial rewards.
“So much had transpired throughout the case that I just wanted to be obedient and give my testimony,” he said. “People would ask me why I’m writing a book and I tried to give all these eloquent answers and try to anticipate what I thought people wanted to hear. But basically it came down to that. Not so much my desire to control the narrative but to give my narrative of what was important and that was to completely undress myself and be transparent.”
Allen said he didn’t want to offer some excuse or sob story as to why he accepted the money. Instead, he wanted to take the reader through his journey, which has included mistakes and transgressions, and also rebirth.
“I was forced — if I wanted to tell it the right way, and my mask off and doing those things — I would naturally have to keep peeling back layers,” he said. “I wanted people to get a better understanding of the flaws that I carried around. I had to really think about the impact decision-making has on you, not just as individual but [on] those that are around you. It was a painful exercise, but I felt it was needed because only in being transparent I could deliver something that could possibly help someone else.”
After returning from overseas, Allen joined Penn as assistant coach in 2009. He became interim coach two months into his first season, and then the coach, becoming the first Black head coach in school history.
He stayed at Penn for five years before resigning because of a lack of success on the floor. But there was so much going on off the floor.
“Whether we like it or not, we have an extra sense of responsibility,” he said. "Prior to me getting the opportunity there was only two African-American coaches in the history of the Big Five [Temple, La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph’s, and Villanova]. And to have this failure in character on top of all the other groups that I represented starting with my family first — that was a tough pill to swallow. I felt like I let a lot of people down. I always used to tell my [players] everything we do should never result in a forfeit of an opportunity for someone else.
“I pray that my sins will be isolated and others won’t be penalized because of it.”
There were difficult situations during the process. Such as when the FBI showed up at Harvard to speak with Allen during a mentoring clinic he was conducting with kids from a Camden, N.J., foundation.
“I wasn’t really sure how the day was going to end up,” he said. "So much was going through my mind. What happens if they take me away in handcuffs? Who’s going to be there to meet them when they get off the bus? Who’s going to be there to pick my kids up when they get out of school? I tried to emphasize the fluctuations in my emotions going from sitting in that room for 3½ hours being interrogated to thinking I was going to be taken away to not being charged at that time to being allowed to leave and meet the kids coming off the bus.
“As I look around the corner and see the kids they’re stretching and laughing and I’m ready to go to the bathroom on myself. It was a lot. Even as I reflect back on it. As my grandmother and older folks in my family used to say, ‘God will give you the peace that surpasses all understanding.’ Some things I really can’t even put a finger on as to how I managed to hold it all together.”
While in the NBA bubble, Allen handed out copies of his book to Celtics players. He is a mentor and friend to many of the younger core, as he spent the bubble time posting Instagram videos with Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown. They were supportive of his journey, and he used the book to create a stronger bond.
“For me to have such a failure in character, I know it was hard for them to digest,” Allen said. “I didn’t hide anything. I would tell the [guys] that the story was real. After some of the guys read the book, they were like, ‘Wow, I really didn’t know that was going on.’ They wanted me to sign the book. It made me feel good that they wanted to share the release with me. I always tell people I don’t think Disney could have written this script.”
Lue just what doctor ordered
The Clippers were able to hire former Cavaliers coach, NBA champion, and Celtics assistant Tyronn Lue as head coach to replace Doc Rivers. Lue, who was an assistant with the Clippers this past season, had spoken with the 76ers and Rockets before the Clippers nabbed him.
They are coming off a crushing ending to the season, blowing a 3-1 lead against the Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals.
Owner Steve Ballmer decided it was time for a change. The Clippers were a mess chemistry-wise and the players appeared to diminish the lofty expectations after losing Game 7, with Paul George saying that it wasn’t “championship or bust” for a team filled with stars and veterans.
“I don’t think we played our best basketball most of the time, frankly, we were in the bubble, and certainly the way we ended our season, that really disappointed me,” Ballmer said. “I think probably fair to say my personality is all about winning, and we didn’t get the job done that we expected to get done at the end of the season.”
The Clippers were eliminated on a Thursday. Ballmer met that weekend with Rivers and the two parted ways on Monday. Rivers was hired to coach the 76ers three days later.
“After sort of a period to breathe, to decompress for all of us, we tried to really ask the question: What do we need to do? What can we do to be better, to improve?” Ballmer said.
The answer was a new coach.
“We brought in the best coach possible [in Lue] — I think the best coach in the NBA, frankly, and certainly the best coach for the Clippers at this stage of the game,” Ballmer said.
Lue has wanted to return to head coaching since being let go by the Cavaliers six games into the 2018-19 season. But he needed time to reflect and refresh.
“I had a chance to step back and look at myself and work on me,” he said. "I lost 35 pounds working out every day and changed my diet. I have a great workout regimen. That was the main thing was focus on myself. And after that, just kind of get back to watching the game and just seeing how the coaches performed, what they are doing in game situations, watching all the games and all the talent in the league of how I could be better.
“After Cleveland, after those first six games of the season and I was done, I had the whole season to just kind of reflect on what I could have done better as a coach, and what can I do and how can I keep improving; and having constant dialogue with [Celtics coach] Brad Stevens, talking to [Mavericks coach] Rick Carlisle, talking to [Warriors coach] Steve Kerr, talking with Doc and just picking their brains on different things and different situations to get better.”
The issue with the Clippers is not talent but cohesion. Rivers said some players were out of shape in the bubble. Some may have been irritated with the preferential treatment given to Kawhi Leonard, while George played poorly in the bubble.
“Everyone has to be on the same page, everyone has to be together, and it has to be a family,” Lue said. "When you start there, I think it’s easy to build a championship team because everyone is invested, everyone is a part of it, everyone is happy to be here, and that’s what I like.
“I think just looking at our team, we need to play faster, at a better pace. I think getting easy baskets is one thing. I think sharing the basketball, playing through our best players and also making the other players on our team better, moving the basketball, changing the size of the floor with the ball, I think is very important for this team. But also getting our players in the best position and best spots on the floor that they are comfortable in, and they have kind of played in those spots or positions throughout their year.”
For Heat, Finals just the start
While the Lakers were unquestionably the best team in the bubble, walking away with their 17th title, the Heat, the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, were perhaps the most impressive, considering their unlikely odds of reaching the Finals.
The Heat pushed the Lakers to six games despite losing point guard Goran Dragic in Game 1 to a torn plantar fascia, and forward Bam Adebayo for two games because of neck strain.
Dragic came back to play in Game 6, but he was a shell of himself. But his desire to return, despite being a free agent this summer and obviously hobbled, said a lot about his dedication to the team.
“I talked to the trainers the next day, they said, ‘Not a chance,’ ” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Game 6. “And sure enough, he’s basically begging every one of us the last three games just to give him a chance. That just shows you his character and how much he wants to give. Not for himself, he’s already proved himself. He’s one of the most decorated players in this game, but he wanted to do it for his teammates and he’s another one of those special human beings that I’m just honored that I’ve been able to coach him and develop that kind of relationship with him over the years.”
The Heat are poised to win and have salary flexibility with Dragic and Jae Crowder being free agents, and Kelly Olynyk having a player option. The Heat want to reserve their salary-cap space to make a run at a major free agent in 2021 (likely Giannis Antetokounmpo), but they are already contenders with the developing Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson alongside Adebayo and Jimmy Butler.
“There’s no question about it. The time is always now with us, and if you have the right leadership with Jimmy and Goran and [Udonis Haslem], then young players can be all about now," said Spoelstra. “I think we all feel very blessed to have somebody like Bam, you know, that’s somebody that fits our fabric, our culture. He is wise and competitive and savvy and mature way beyond his years. I have to remind myself sometimes that he just turned 23 in the bubble here. He feels like he’s 28 years old. He feels like he’s been in the league for 10 years. He’s taken on that kind of responsibility and leadership role for us.”
The Pelicans' hiring of Stan Van Gundy came as a surprise to some, but the club was seeking a veteran coach with a defensive mind-set who can bond with younger players. Van Gundy, who was fired in Detroit two years ago after a failed stint as coach and president, used his time as a television analyst to bond with current players while displaying his knowledge of the current game. The Pelicans have intentions on making a playoff run next season and need a coach who can guide talented youngsters such as Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball. It’s an interesting hire, especially with David Vanterpool, Darvin Ham, Wes Unseld Jr., and Stephen Silas as candidates, but Van Gundy is a veteran and has had success in Orlando and Miami. One potential candidate who decided to stay put was former Nets and Bucks coach Jason Kidd, who wants to return to coaching in the right situation . . . That leaves two vacant coaching jobs: Houston and Oklahoma City. Rockets management and ownership want to hire Jeff Van Gundy, brother of Stan, who coached the Rockets more than a decade ago. But league sources say superstars James Harden and Russell Westbrook would prefer former Rockets coach and current assistant John Lucas, who has bonded with the players over the years and become a father figure to many players around the league. General manager Daryl Morey resigned partly because of the struggle between the sides. Owner Tilman Fertitta said the organization will continue to compete with Harden and Westbrook, so the next coaching move will be critical to not only the franchise’s future but those players’ legacies. Lucas has coached the Spurs, 76ers, and Cavaliers, but that was nearly two decades ago. He has been a fixture on the Rockets’ bench for several years and was credited with helping develop former Houston center Clint Capela . . . The Thunder have been eerily quiet in their coaching search, but the club is apparently considering current Dayton coach and former Thunder assistant Anthony Grant, as well as Spurs assistant Becky Hammon. Oklahoma City is an intriguing job because the Thunder exceeded expectations and reached the playoffs despite trading Westbrook and Paul George and acquiring Chris Paul, 35. The Thunder still have a slew of first-round picks over several years and players such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, and Darius Bazley as potential cornerstones.