Walter Ray Allen Jr. is an artist. From the first time he first touched a basketball, he began creating. His expression could not be contained on paper, or canvas. Clay or wood or metallurgy could not contain his skill; only through basketball did he translate his innate brilliance.
Others played the game; Ray Allen made it into kinetic poetry. He played to his own symphonic tempo, dominating defenses on the downbeat, scorching defenders with both jazzy improv and beautiful metronomic precision. While the rock stars of the 90s, the Bulls, the Knicks, the Rockets, all got grey and broke up the band, Ray Allen just kept shooting, weaving 40 point outbursts, a conductor who drove defenses to disarray. While the mega pop Lakers boomed and then fizzled, and the big band Spurs rolled on and on and on, and the grunge 76ers and Pistons had their moments in the sun, Ray, he kept shooting, making gorgeous music over and over and over.
The cast around him came and went: from the slick offensive percussion of Glenn Robinson, the rollicking fun of Sam Cassell, the frenetic jamming with Rashard Lewis, but The Artist Known As Jesus Shuttlesworth just kept making hits, man. This ain’t about numbers, but the numbers don’t lie: no other player in history has ever racked up the 16952 points and 1920 threes made that Allen did through the first 11 seasons of his career.
Too many only remember Boston Celtics era Ray Allen, the third banana in the Celtics ensemble. At 32, he was still capable of rocking face melting solos from time to time, like his 51 point virtuoso playoff performance, but mostly he played his position, running through miles of screens and flashing his craft as part of a championship collective. But there’s box score evidence of him deconstructing the Kobe & Shaq gang with a 29 point, 10 rebound, 10 assist gem in ‘03. There’s video of him serving the Jazz a 54 point, 10 rebound, 5 assist detonation in ‘07.
Allen’s craftsmanship extended beyond the flick of the wrist; in his prime, he was a premiere shooting guard, capable of busting just about any defensive scheme off the dribble, and put constant pressure on the defense, off ball or with the rock in his hands, the threat of him raining fire from beyond the arc always looming. Since the inception of the three point line, the list of players with a full season averaging at least 23 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4 assists, and make 2.5 threes a game is pretty short; factor in shooting at least 40% from 3, and the list shrinks to one: Steph Curry in his unanimous MVP season. Well, Ray Allen averaged those statistical milestones for an eight year stretch.
Even in Boston, while Kevin Garnett roared, Paul Pierce scored in bunches, Rondo glowered, Celtics won a ring and then Boston got its collective hearts broken, Walter Ray Allen kept shooting. He no longer dominated the action as he did in his prime, but to label him just a shooter would be foolish. The “Big Three Era” Celtics were more than the sum of it’s parts, and if KG was the sun in that Boston solar system, Ray Allen was a dominant comet; he constantly in motion, the threat of his deadly marksmanship dragging defenders into his orbit, opening the floor for the other celestial bodies that wore kelly green.
Then when it all fell apart and the band broke up, Celtic fans saw him as Judas Iscariot in a Miami Heat uniform, Ray kept shooting.
And in the 2013 Finals, as the Heat saw their season trickling away, one tick of the clock at a time, as the legacy of LeBron James hung in the balance, Ray Allen kept shooting; The Shot elevated him from the plane of mere mortals and into the gilded halls of NBA lore.
Ray Allen watched the NBA evolve around him, saw the rise and fall and rise of new philosophies, new champions, new narratives, new super-teams, and Ray Allen kept shooting. In many ways, Allen begat the Steph Currys and Dame Lillards of today; he’s the evolutionary missing link between the era when three pointer was a curiosity, viewed as a little used gimmick, and the modern NBA, where “spacing” and “gravity” are the lifeblood to good offense, and the three ball is high grade weaponry.
On June 15th, 2014, Walter Ray Allen Jr. stripped off an NBA jersey for the last time, and on November 1st, 2016, he officially called it quits, stepping back and appraising his career tapestry, over 18 years in the making. He walks away from the game as the only player ever to amass 24,505 points, 5,272 rebounds, 4,361 assists, and 2,973 made three pointers. Steph Curry is the present and future, but he (and everyone else ever to play the game) is looking up at Ray’s titanic statistical palette.
Allen announced his retirement in a poignant Player’s Tribune letter to his 13 year old self. Its beautifully written, reminding us that time is the elusive currency. We try to save it, we waste it, and for the things we care about in life, we spend it lovingly. But as much as we try to corral the steady passing of time, it’s constantly taking us further and further from our younger selves with each tick of the second hand.
And Ray Allen is fine with that.
Hundreds of games. Thousands of hours honing his scalpel sharp jumper. The sweat, the sacrifices, the fight: it’s all done, there is no more shooting for Ray Allen. His opus is now complete.
Walter Ray Allen Jr was an artist, and the game is more beautiful for him being part of it:
“Most people will never get to know the real you. But they’ll know your work.”
Our #NoCountryForOldMen series depicts aging gunslingers of the NBA, and their journey out to pasture away from the game. Catch it all season long at Press Basketball.