Ray Allen strode down the red carpet, his family trailing behind, and into Symphony Hall Friday night to take his place among basketball’s greats.
After a lifetime of working to be a step ahead of the rest, he can now settle comfortably into the pack.
“Like minds,” Allen said this week. “I’m with like minds now, we can be sharing the same stories now, saying, ‘ha, that happened to me.’”
Allen, the last of the 13 new inductees to speak at the enshrinement ceremony, thanked his UConn coach, Jim Calhoun, who sat behind him, and his presenter Reggie Miller, who held the NBA 3-point shooting records he eventually broke, and a host of others who helped him along the way. “I don’t believe in talent,” Allen said, flashing his fierce pride. “I’m here because I worked hard my whole life.”
He received the ultimate recognition and spoke for 18 minutes at a fascinating intersection, a little over an hour’s drive from UConn, where he is still revered more than 20 years after leaving, and little over an hour and a half from TD Garden in Boston, where he helped win a championship but anger still lingers over his departure from the Celtics in 2012.
Allen, though, gave his former Celtics teammates, who have excluded him from various reunions, a gracious shoutout and perhaps a reconciliation has begun.
“It wasn’t until my 12th year, my first with the Boston Celtics,” he said, as the crowd began to cheer, “where I played with a couple of future Hall of Famers, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe I would be on this stage the way it was, and for all of this to happen it took the basketball mind of [GM] Danny Ainge to make it possible.”
Allen, 43, might not have made this walk down the carpet in Springfield were he not traded from Seattle, where he was a high scorer on an average team, to Boston in June 2007. There, he became one of several important members of a championship team, his first, in 2008 – “like minds” then, but not right now.
“It was incredible, because I didn’t know what it took to win a title,” Allen said earlier. “Up to that time, I thought I knew what it took to win championship, all of us, every player in the league do. But until you win one, you look back and say, ‘wow, I never knew it would be that hard. I had no idea.’ When you’re on teams that are OK, you win, but when you lose, losing is not as tough or as bad because the pressure is not as great. In ’08, the pressure was immense, because people thought we were going to win. People picked us. … You have to be lucky to be around a lot of guys who want the same goal.“
Allen and his teammates, Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Garnett and the rest, came through the fire and they came close each of the next three season. After the Celtics lost in the Eastern Conference finals to the Heat in 2012, Allen turned down a two-year, $12 million offer from Boston and signed for less to join LeBron James and the Heat.
Fans often harbor hard feelings over such moves, but players generally accept the business end of pro sports. Allen’s departure opened a wound that has yet to heal. Words like “betrayal” and “joining the enemy” have been thrown around.
“The guys on our team, you wouldn’t do anything like that,” Rondo told ESPN’s The Undefeated in 2017. “It makes you question that series in the Finals … Who were you for? You didn’t bleed green.”
Pierce, however, tweeted his congratulations and well-wishes earlier Friday, at last indicating a thaw in relations. “I have no more problems,” Pierce said.
When Rondo arranged a 10-year reunion for the 2008 champions, Allen was not invited. Nor did Allen join his former teammates when Pierce’s number was retired. At a charity event in Boston earlier his week, the coach of that team, Doc Rivers, expressed his disappointment.
“I hate seeing it,” Rivers told reporters. “Ray won us a title and I think it should be celebrated. He should be celebrated in Boston. If I had one wish, I wish I could do a better job of getting that whole group back together and they should be because they were so close – it really hurts me to see what’s going on.”
“We definitely do not win the championship without Ray Allen,” said Ainge, who was in the audience, during the video tribute.
“People look at how I left [Boston],” Allen said, “but I look at how I lived, while I was there. To me it was the most important time in my life because I had never won and I was able to win. That’s the most important thing that I want people to remember, is the time that we spent together. Now, I do understand that the angst that people have toward me is because they loved it so much.”
“It is an interesting dichotomy between Connecticut and Boston because I love both places, I live in New England. I appreciate both environments and the people who appreciated me are still out there.”
This was Ray Allen’s night, for whoever wanted to be a part of it. He thanked many of his UConn teammates, and the Storrs community.
“Under Coach Calhoun,” Allen said, “I really learned how to work, how to compete, how to be a better person … how to eat breakfast.”
His parents, Walter Ray Sr. and Flo, his wife Shannon and his children, each beaming their father’s familiar smile, all got their lavish praise.
Joining Allen in the Hall’s Class of 2018 were Maurice Cheeks, four-time NBA All-Star; Lefty Driesell, long-time NCAA coach; Grant Hill, seven-time All-Star; Jason Kidd, 10-time All-Star; Steve Nash, two-time MVP; Katie Smith, three-time Olympic gold medalist; Tina Thompson, four-time WNBA champion; former Celtics Charlie Scott from the Veterans Committee and Dino Radja from the International Committee, executives Rod Thorn and Rick Welts from the Contributors Committee, and the late Ora Mae Washington from the African American Pioneers Committee.
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