“Ring-chasing” is an oft-derided modern phenomenon. It wasn’t mocked in 1985 when Bill Walton demanded a trade to either the champion Los Angeles Lakers or would-be champion Boston Celtics, but for some reason (deduce as you will) it was roundly criticized in 2003 when Gary Payton and Karl Malone took far, far less money than they were being offered elsewhere to sign with the Lakers; a team that actually hadn’t even won a ring the year before.
In the years since, just about every player who has joined a team along those lines has gotten the same treatment, even down to the sainted Shane Battier and Ray Allen as they joined the (in Battier’s case, non-champion) Miami Heat. Battier earned two rings with the Heat before retiring, while Allen earned his second ring as a pro in 2013. Allen currently is considering stepping down after a Hall of Fame-level career.
Or, he could follow LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and hear the catcalls from those who have no idea what it’s like to be in a locker room when the champagne starts spraying. Allen discussed his impending decision in a discussion with Mark Murphy at the Boston Herald:
"No," he said when asked about the assumption that he would return as a Cavalier. "There’s so much speculation about me going to Cleveland. I haven’t even decided where I will play. Obviously LeBron and I are great friends, and James Jones and I are really close. But at no point have those two tried to push me in that direction. I haven’t had that conversation. LeBron and I went on vacation to the Bahamas earlier this summer, and we didn’t talk one iota about things. And that was before he made his decision.
"It’s just what they start talking about on TV — where I’m supposed to go. I have not leaned towards Cleveland," said Allen. "I have not made any mention of going to Cleveland. These last two months were about me physically, and deciding whether I want to play again."
Instead, Allen is weighing family concerns and a major question of whether he wants to retire in prime physical shape, or whether he wants to chase his third NBA title. That will most likely mean leaving Miami, his city of the last two years. Allen said he has not talked with Heat general manager Pat Riley, or any other member of the Heat organization, about returning.
"That’s the other dilemma. If I do play again, based on what Miami is doing or not doing, I’ll end up having to move," he said. "I’ll live in Miami, but I’ll have to move to another team."
Yes, “where the dude and his family actually live.” Something that gets lost way, WAY too often as we discuss these players as assets, and complain when they stay in their incumbent cities, declining to pull up roots and move. In Allen’s case it would be the fourth such move of his career, not counting the time he was traded just minutes after being drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
We know, we know – world’s tiniest violin. Allen’s potential “veteran’s minimum” contract with Miami or Cleveland (and probably not with Doc Rivers’ Los Angeles Clippers, who are just about hard-capped out) would make him yet another million, even if it will underpay for the sort of services he provides. Ray’s three-point shooting declined last season, but anyone who watched a Heat game and took in the “oh no oh no oh no oh no”-reaction that defenses gave Miami while collapsing on an open Allen will attest to what he brings to the table.
Does he want to return to that table, though?
Typically, when athletes retire, they do it right away. Sick of the grind, the game, or any other number of elements, they’ll pack it up right after the season ends, or even announce before a campaign that this is the final year, I’ve had it, I’m out. Now that we’ve entered early August, it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that Allen is considering giving it another go, and returning for one final year, mainly because he didn’t throw up his hands as soon as the San Antonio Spurs were done dismantling (literally, it turns out) the Miami Heat.
Allen is no ordinary, typical athlete; he’s an intelligent sort that doesn’t have to follow the same path that his predecessors in basketball or other sports have. Remember, he’s famously devoted to his physical routine both during the season and in the summer months, and his declaration that the “last two months were about me physically” is a nod to that brand of obsessive orthodoxy.
From there come the ring-chasing “charges.”
It’s nice to win a ring. It’s fun to play with really good basketball players, and it’s even better fun to play with really good basketball players that (as it is with Allen and LeBron James) you’re also really good friends with. What would Allen’s would-be detractors want him to do? Stay in Miami for a middling team, the same franchise they criticized him for joining? End his career with a team in Milwaukee that once traded him? Go to Oklahoma City because they were kind of the SuperSonics once? Wait, no, that would be ring-chasing.
It’s understandable that NBA fans are sick of supposed superteams, but LeBron James just joined a potential-laden franchise in Cleveland that is no strong guarantee to win a championship during James’ prime over the next couple of years even with Allen. Carmelo Anthony declined to set up shop in Chicago, the designed superteam in Los Angeles failed miserably with Dwight Howard in the middle, Houston has so far been unable to acquire a third star, and the former superteam in Miami won just two rings in four tries, one of them just barely.
“Superteam-up at your own peril,” we should probably say.
We should also truly hope that we haven’t watched the last game of NBA basketball that Ray Allen will ever play, and we certainly shouldn’t criticize him should he decide to “follow” LeBron James to Cleveland and spot up in the corner for the emerging Cavaliers. This would involve a man leaving his family for months at a time while dealing with, um, significant climate change in order to try to earn another championship – the sort of thing huge gobs of fans yell at players for declining to do all the time.
The only decision that Ray Allen could make that we should boo would be the decision to retire from the NBA. Then, after that initial “boo,” we should all stand and applaud the man’s legendary career.
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