Ray Allen did not like Rajon Rondo. The 36-year old also might be delusional, saying, “Forever, I’ll always be a Celtic” after leaving to one of the team’s fiercest rivals for half the money.
Though he didn’t directly answer questions about his relationship with Rondo, Allen noted during his introductory press conference with the Miami Heat this afternoon that he has texted Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, but has not communicated with Rondo since leaving. Clearly, he didn’t have much love for Rondo. The reports we have read in the past week are not erroneous. There were other reasons for his departure besides Rondo, sure, including Danny Ainge’s willingness to ship him away so many times, and what he claims will be a better role for him in Miami.
But if we weren’t sure before today, we know now that Allen holds a level of hostility for Rondo. The sharp shooter’s non-responses to Rondo queries were basically his way of saying, “Yes, I disliked Rondo” while maintaining a small level of innocence by not directly saying so. By not answering the questions directly, Allen had to know he was in fact answering the questions loudly and clearly. If he had wanted to squash the rumors, he could have just said a simple, “Sorry, guys. The media manufactured that angle. I actually have no problems with Rondo. We worked well together for five years despite our differences off the court.”
The way Allen passively-aggressively discussed Rondo raised a couple other questions: Is Rondo such a headache that one of the greatest professionals of all time can’t stand him, to the point of leaving $3 million per season on the table? Have we misread Allen all along, and he’s actually an immature, stubborn guy who can allow petty differences to become such large issues? Likely, the truth lies somewhere in between. Allen is overstated as a good guy because he wears suits and speaks to the media whenever they want him to. Co-existing with Rondo can be extremely difficult at times. As Rich Levine pointed out in a recent column, Allen has always said the right things. He’s always been a politician. He chooses his words with the care of a chemist choosing his elements. So his history makes his non-responses on Wednesday all the more interesting. He could have dismissed the Rondo rumors. He chose not to. I can already envision Rondo gritting his teeth and notching a quintuple-double during his first game against the Miami Heat next season.
I never expected to learn much from Allen’s press conference. We love to know the innermost feelings of professional athletes, but Allen hardly ever provided us that opportunity. He never let on how much losing his starting spot actually hurt. He never once hinted toward the level of jealousy for his former star Celtics teammates which he admitted to reporters today. He played the part of perfect teammate and perfect professional, but all the while he was masking human emotion which, sadly enough, everyone could have understood.
(Note: Even now, nobody can question Allen’s level of professionalism. Despite not appreciating parts of Boston’s locker room, despite hating his move to the second unit, despite bone spurs in his ankle, Allen kept arriving to the arena four hours before every game, kept sprinting around screens and kept trying his damnedest to get open.)
Over the past five years we learned a lot about Allen. We learned that he’s a more willing defender than people gave him credit for and a more capable one, too, at least before slowing appreciably during the last couple of years. He was more generous to the media with his time than any of the Celtics’ other stars. He spoke before games and after them, whether the Celtics won or lost, regardless of how well he played. He had a sharp fashion sense and always looked ready for a business meeting, rather than an NBA game. His pregame preparation borders on insanity. He is obsessive, maniacal and perhaps the most habit-defined creature of this NBA generation. He hates when things are out of his control.
We also learned, the hard way, that Ray Allen speaks with the grace to please everyone but the intelligence, and sometimes the stupidity, to save his deepest feelings for himself. If a Boston Globe report today was true, Allen was filled with resentment toward Rondo for a long time but never told the point guard. Rondo discovered the hostility through reports of Allen’s ill feelings. The two maybe could have aired out their differences, but Allen never shared his thoughts. Maybe he feared Rondo’s response. Maybe he just wanted everyone to love him, including Rondo. Maybe he loathes confrontation and prefers to let his animosity boil until it spills over and pushes him to an enemy roster.
Allen never publicly acknowledged any malcontent, and that was the Celtics’ way. Hardly any other Celtics shared their differences with the media, either. But we still got to know some players through the press. We might not have liked that Glen Davis complained about his role and wanted to become a starter and clearly held some ill feelings for Doc Rivers, but we knew where he stood. We knew what he wanted. We knew that he wished he could play more minutes and get more shots, and that he wanted one day to play without being hidden by Kevin Garnett’s shadow. We know Rondo doesn’t like dealing with the media, but he won’t pretend otherwise. He will give one-word answers at times and he will deflect certain questions, and that might encourage certain members of the media to describe him as a lesser, more ornery being. But even through Rondo’s short answers, we have learned that he’s a competitive, egotistical, vindictive son of a bitch who won’t hesitate to point out the Miami Heat’s tendency to cry to officials because, damn it, he doesn’t care what people think as long as he speaks his own mind. We know Rondo’s not perfect. We can tell when he’s upset and we know when he’s happy, and sometimes he can be both almost simultaneously.
With Allen, we never knew. He played the part of the good Samaritan until the day when he took half as much money to leave for the Miami Heat. He claimed to understand that basketball is a business, but obviously, as we know now, he felt ill will toward Ainge and the Celtics organization. He played the part of the perfect teammate, but he was jealous that Garnett and Pierce received more shine and bigger contracts. He acted like the most mature player in the league, but still reportedly got offended when Rivers called Rondo his smartest player, because “Allen thought of himself as having the highest basketball IQ on the roster.” Really, these are the reports being written about Ray Allen.
We never thought he was such high-maintenance. But professional athletes, especially Hall of Fame ones, have levels of pride most individuals can’t understand. I’m not upset with Allen for being angry with his treatment. The Celtics tried to trade him several times. They clearly considered him the third option of the Big Three. Allen was hurt and I don’t blame him. But here’s the catch: The third fiddle is what he was and what he should have been. From day one he was the least valuable of the Big Three and the gap between him, Garnett and Pierce (and now, Rondo) only grew exponentially during the past season. It’s delusional for Allen to believe he deserves a contract as rich as Pierce’s, Garnett’s or Rondo’s, or to be jealous of their deals. Yet pride can scratch our retinas and leave our vision blurry. Athletes who reach the pinnacle of their sports almost without exception consider themselves better than everyone else on the court or field, whether they are or not. Allen seems to have been typically defiant of his waning value, and he resented the Celtics for seeing him differently than he saw himself — even if the Celtics viewed him similarly to the way the rest of the world did.
And so Allen left the Celtics, and he sat next to Pat Riley at Wednesday’s press conference, and he discussed their recruiting meeting, and his role in Miami’s offense next to LeBron James, and he joked about coming off the pine behind Dwyane Wade. He spoke about Riley’s powers of relating to what he wanted. He spoke about how much he will miss Boston. He spoke about disliking Rondo, in the oral version of invisible ink.
While he sat there, proclaiming his love for Boston, declaring how much he’ll miss the city, saying how much he’ll miss playing with Garnett and Pierce, Allen was almost likable, even for Celtics fans filled with anger over the past week.
And then we remembered that Allen hardly ever speaks his mind. We heard Wednesday what he wanted us to. Nothing more, nothing less — the way we now know it’s always been.