Friday, February 11, 2011
Last night, the two greatest shooters I've ever had the pleasure of truly watching for their entire careers were in one building, and fittingly, Ray Allen passed Reggie Miller as the NBA's all-time leader in three-pointers made.
Seeing them embrace after Allen's 2,561st made three, I couldn't help but think of the contrasts between the two. When you really break it down, the only thing Reggie Miller and Ray Allen had in common was the amazing efficiency they've had watching the ball hit nothing but the bottom of the net. After that, the similarities end.
Reggie Miller had that unconventional, funky shooting motion, slapping his wrists together. It's something you'd never teach a youngster to try and imitate. Ray Allen's shot is the epitome of perfect form — squaring the feet, straightening the elbow, release at the highest point, perfect followthrough. It's almost as if god put him on this earth to show kids the exact form you should aim for. Reggie Miller was a brash trash-talker. Ray Allen has barely made a peep over his career. Reggie did most of his damage running of screens and bombing away. Allen, while being tremendous running of screens himself, had a little more hops and could create his own shot and get the rim in his younger days. Reggie is ringless. Ray finally got his with Boston.
Their personalities couldn't be more different. But they will always, always have that common moniker of great shooter. And now Allen can claim the title as the best, or at least most accomplished, three-point shooter of all time.
I vividly remember his playing days at UConn, first going up against Kerry Kittles, then Allen Iverson.
And as a Philadelphia 76ers fan and Allen Iverson connoisseur, I've closely watched Ray Allen's career ever since. Their personal rivalry began back in the Big East, when Ray Allen and Allen Iverson used to straight go at.
Of course, that rivalry's biggest game was decided by those two, when Ray hit the ridiculous shot that toppled Iverson's Hoyas to win the Big East Championship in 1996.
And I watched Allen and Iverson rekindle their rivalry in Iverson's very first game in the NBA, with Iverson putting up 30 points against Allen's Bucks.
That rivalry would last for years. The Bucks of Ray Allen, Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson were among the biggest threats to Iverson's run at an Eastern Conference title along with … you guessed it, Reggie Miller's Pacers. When Iverson and the Sixers finally got past the Pacers in the 2001 playoffs and then outlasted the Toronto Raptors, all that stood between the Sixers and the NBA Finals were Ray Allen's Bucks.
I watched as the Bucks, led by Allen, fought tooth and nail before ultimately falling to the Sixers in seven games. And I remember Ray Allen basically saying there was a conspiracy to get the Sixers into the Finals:
"I think there's no question about that. The league, as a marketing machine, the bottom line is about making money," Allen said. "It behooves everybody for the league to make more money, and the league knows that Philadelphia is going to make more money with L.A. than we would with L.A."
I remember the very next year when Philadelphia was hosting the All-Star game. I went to the three-point shootout and dunk contest with silver fox and Arkansas Fred — specifically recalling Shane Battier, fresh off playing the rookie-sophomore game, coming out the wrong door and looking up all confused at the crowd outside waiting to get in, then walking through the crowd and running right into Arkansas Fred and silver fox, true story — and every time Ray Allen came up, he was getting booed. The out-of-towner next to me, who kept hilariously making fun of Funkmaster Flex — the night's MC — asked me why everyone hated Allen. I told him it was because of his comments in the Eastern Conference Finals the year before, and he couldn't stop laughing. (Jason Richardson won the dunk contest by the way, and that was the year the stupid wheel of a classic dunk was used.)
But even though Ray Allen was a rival of my favorite Sixer ever, even though he made those absurd comments, I could never bring myself to hate the man. His game was just too smooth, too impressive, too good, and the work he put in made me love his game even more.
Ray Allen could always shoot, and he still is as good a shooter as anybody. Everyone knows that. But what some people might not remember is just how incredible an athlete Ray-Ray was in his younger days. He could sky. He could get to the rim. He could beat his man off the dribble, finish in the paint, do just about anything offensively. After being on a contender in Milwaukee, he never complained about his obscurity in Seattle. He just went about his business, the first one to arrive and last one to leave, and became a leader. Even going Hollywood as Jesus Shuttleworth didn't go to his head or take away from his preparation.
Ray Allen has simply put in the work day in and day out since the moment he arrived at UConn, and he hasn't relented ever since. He went a long, long time chasing that ring, and when he finally won it in Boston, I was happy for him. And I'm happy that he's now the all-time leader in three-pointers made. Because watching him for the past 16-plus years has been a real joy, first at UConn and now back in New England some 14 years later.
Ray Allen is easily the greatest shooter I've ever seen. He has the most beautiful jump shot and quickest release my eyes have ever witnessed. If you had to pick one player in the history of the league to use as a teaching tool on how to shoot, you'd go with Ray Allen, his form is that pure. And if the NBA and sports in general had more players, more humans like Ray Allen, we'd all be better off.
Congrats, Ray. You deserve to go down in the history books. And I feel privileged to have watched your career unfold, and lucky that I've gotten to see that sweet shot for all these years.