A Lupe Fiasco song dances through my head. John Legend sings the chorus. “I’ll never forget you, I’ll never let you go,” I hear. The Big Three era is over. Ray Allen decided to end it by migrating to South Beach for half of what the Boston Celtics offered him. I hate him for it. I will always hold love for him because of so much else. Boston has no cap space to replace what Allen would have provided. They’ll look for a cheap shooting guard. Maybe Mickael Pietrus. The Big Three era continues. Rajon Rondo surpassed Allen years ago.
I fondly remember everything Allen accomplished in Boston. I understand the reasons he left. I can’t bring myself to understand them. Somewhere in the middle of the two previous sentences rests the truth. Both of those sentences are the truth. I’m loathsome. I’m reminiscent. I’m still in love with the team I watched for the past five seasons. I’ll never forget them. I’ll never let them go. I have no choice but to let them go. I’ll still never forget them. Are the memories stained? Can I still look back at Allen’s uber-smooth layup during The Comeback in the 2008 NBA Finals and smile uncontrollably? What will it be like to see him in a Heat uniform, knowing he only went there because he was sick of the Celtics’ organization and wanted out? I have an open wound on one arm that’s underneath a fountain of alcohol, and somebody’s now putting out a cigarette on the other. Can I ever watch He Got Game again?
I sound like a blabbering idiot. John Legend’s voice is beautiful. The Celtics lost a 36-year old shooting guard who underwent ankle surgery this summer and had clearly lost a step or two even before that. He’ll return in great shape because he’s Ray Allen. He’ll still be missing those one or two steps. He was almost traded multiple times over the past three seasons. He resented Danny Ainge for that. He had some weird rift with Rajon Rondo that we barely knew about until it was too late. He hated that Avery Bradley wrenched away his starting spot. He should have understood that the Celtics played their best ball with Bradley in the starting lineup. I understand why he didn’t. He’s a Hall of Famer who lost his spot during an injury to a raw 21-year old with dozens of rough edges. He’s stubborn. That’s part of what made him so great. He has values. That’s partly why he left Boston for half the money. As a friend pointed out, Allen left despite the offer of a similar role, twice the money, great medical care for his diabetic child, a shot at winning another championship, and a chance to continue the Big Three era that solidified Allen’s Hall of Fame bid and resulted in his only ring (so far). That’s a lot to leave behind. Allen loved the Boston Celtics, just as he apparently had grown sick of them. He cried at his press conference after losing Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals this year. I remember those tears. They are close to streaming down my own face right now.
Am I being dramatic? Irrational? Spiteful?
John Legend continues: “Take me to that old, familiar place. Take me to memories we won’t erase. Take me to all that we had, the good and the bad.”
Allen rises for a three. He has missed his previous six attempts. I know the seventh is going down. So does he. So does his opponent. Swish. Elation. The Celtics win by one. I see Allen stutter-stepping Sasha Vujacic, blowing past him, finishing with his left hand against a “too little, too late” Pau Gasol. I see game-winners, so many game-winners. I see the Philadelphia 76ers series. Allen can’t explode off his injured ankle. He is gritting through bone spurs to help the Celtics. He has missed so many shots, but Philadelphia continues to double him and pressure him and respect him. The 76ers finally lose him, just for a second. Allen drains a critical 3-pointer. It’s the fourth quarter. He adds another one shortly later. Misses don’t phase Ray Allen. He always thinks the next one is going in. His shooter’s mentality has won so many games for Boston over the past five years. It will never win the Celtics another game. A few cliches ring inside my head. Loyalty doesn’t exist in sports. The NBA is a business. It’s the fans who are left to deal with the carnage when a player’s relationship with his employer erodes. Allen reportedly also had other internal bad blood which helped lead to his departure.
It’s difficult to believe that a deteriorating relationship with Rondo helped pave the way to Allen’s defection (although I do believe it), mostly because they coexisted so poetically on the court. Rondo dribbled into the paint. Allen trailed on the wing. Rondo knew exactly where the world’s most prolific 3-point shooter would spot up. He would barely glance Allen’s way, but he would hit him in stride. Often, Rondo even opted not to shoot open layups to do so. Sometimes, his passes would be of the berserk, underhanded-sling fashion. Other times they were just regular passes, which Allen would catch before rising into the NBA’s prettiest jump shot. I love that jump shot. It reminds me of the moment when you arrive at the beach and you first see the waves crashing, when the sand softly envelops your toes, the scent of the sea blasts into your nostrils, the sun beams on your shoulders, and it’s vacation, and you have no responsibilities, and everything is relaxed and good-natured and free, and your family is with you and some of them are playing that bean-bag toss game, corn hole, and others quickly tear off their shirts and sprint into the ocean, which is cold and refreshing and salty and gorgeous. Sometimes I would arrive at the TD Garden four hours before a game just so I could watch Allen’s pregame warmups. So many times, that jump shot brought me joy. Now the memories are difficult, and great, and confusing, and my mind doesn’t quite yet know what to make of them.
The Celtics would not have won a title without Walter Ray Allen. He surrendered pieces of himself so the Celtics could succeed. He drilled so many timely shots. Even after being so pissed about his “demotion” to the second unit, Allen battled through bone spurs to give Boston whatever he could in the playoffs. Leaving to Miami doesn’t change anything he’s done. It doesn’t take away the ring. It doesn’t take away the memories. But it will make us look at them in a different hue.
John Legend continues belting his powerful tunes. ”I’ll always remember, I hope you know.” I’ll remember the title and the sacrifices and the jumper that reminds me of the beach. I’ll remember the painful departure and the rumors of all his reasons for leaving — Rivers taking away his starting spot, Ainge’s repeated attempts to trade him, a level of jealousy for the bigger contracts afforded to Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the growing rift between him and Rondo.
I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive Allen for saying goodbye to his Boston brethren, for leaving money on the table in order to join the enemy. But everything he accomplished, everything he sacrificed, everything he did for Boston remains embedded in my brain and in my heart and will forever hold a place there.
Allen helped the Boston Celtics to the franchise’s 17th title and did everything he could during his time with the team to help them earn an 18th. Now, I hope Avery Bradley dribbles past him with the rocket power of youth and rises up to dunk on LeBron James’ head.