This story isn’t meant to be primarily about Ray Allen, though he will stand as the prominent example in an inner debate I’m having with regards to a media phenomenon.
My theory: Our views of athletes are distorted by the amount of time (and amount of friendliness with which) they speak to the media. Because Allen spent 15 minutes before every game holding court with reporters in a highly cordial manner, the theory goes, the media overreacts to his smiles and articulate nature and decides to paint him as a revered saint who wears a halo and regularly cures pre-pubescent children of diphtheria. His well-dressed image, early shot routine and well-contemplated musings on whatever topics were requested by the media became almost entirely how the media judged him. Digging deeper into Allen’s moral fiber would have been difficult and perhaps even futile, so he was judged for his becoming disposition as much as Rajon Rondo was judged for his surly, one-word answers to reporters’ questions. We are coming to learn recently that maybe we had both men misunderstood.
It’s tough to dig up anecdotes — like Jackie MacMullan did in a 2008 Globe piece — that perhaps Allen was tough to deal with. Kevin Garnett called Allen “very strong-minded” and spoke about having lots of “debates” with him. MacMullan detailed a time when Allen and Garnett “got into it” while Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo sat there thinking, “Whoa, what’s this about?” Doc Rivers said Allen’s mentality was the most difficult of the Big Three to change because, as someone with self-proclaimed OCD, he wanted to do things the way he always had in the past. Allen certainly wasn’t the easiest teammate to deal with. According to MacMullan, he “harangue(d) Garnett about his sweater-and-tie combos, and the omnipresent Adidas logo on everything he wears” and “chastise(d) Eddie House for shooting halfcourt shots at intermission at the opposing team’s basket.”
Allen has always been described as a great family man, classy human and all-around nice guy. But why, then, was Garnett the only one to reach out to Allen during his free agency? Why did Keyon Dooling — who almost never says a bad word about anybody and seems more loyal to his friends than the world’s best dog — sound so hostile when he followed saying “I love Ray” by noting that it sometimes seemed like Allen spent more time talking to the media than talking to his teammates? Why did Rondo have such disdain for Allen, and why did Allen have such problems with Rondo if all his other teammates now seem to love him? Allen’s personality was certainly tough for teammates to handle. But is he also a politician whose facade masks some imperfections about which we don’t know? Will we ever know one way or the other?
Similar questions operate inversely for Rondo. Why did we consider him so ornery for seven years when all of his teammates (with the exception of Allen) seem to love and respect him, at least now? Why did we consider him such a bad guy and difficult teammate when his best friend on the team (now that Perkins has left) is Garnett, who would despise Rondo if he were actually a bad guy and difficult teammate? Is it just because Rondo disliked talking to the media? Is it just because he did not like having 30 microphones shoved in his face and, win or lose, being forced to speak to a horde of people who might very well twist the meaning of his words?
The reasons for my theory are simple: If an athlete is happy and engaging with the press, members of the press are more likely to like him. And when members of the press like an athlete, their stories about him become complimentary. And when consumers read complimentary stories about an athlete, they begin to view the athlete as moral and good. The media shapes how the public views an athlete. This is fact.
I’m not saying Allen is a bad guy or Rondo’s the next Mother Theresa. But to a certain extent, at least, we had these guys misjudged. And because we can’t possibly get to know professional athletes fully, this won’t be the last time we misunderstand the people we cheer for and worship.