Ray Allen has the most beautiful basketball stroke you will ever see, and we will never see it again.
In an eloquent letter to his younger self published on The Players’ Tribune Tuesday, the NBA’s career leader in successful 3-point field goals officially hung up his sneakers, ending years of speculation that the 41-year-old may join a championship contender after two full seasons away from the game.
“I write this to you today as a 41-year-old man who is retiring from the game,” wrote Allen. “I write to you as a man who is completely at peace with himself.”
Allen built a reputation as a tireless worker who kept his body and shot mechanics in peak form, even in his 18th and final season in 2013-14, and that work resulted in a remarkable career that included 2,973 career 3-pointers — 400 more than Reggie Miller — 10 All-Star Game selections, four teams, two championships and the single-most clutch 3-pointer in NBA history.
The first-in-the-gym, last-to-leave saying can be awfully cliché, but when it came to Allen, it was no lie. His pregame routine never wavered. He napped from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., ate chicken and rice at 2:30 and arrived at the gym almost four hours before the game. He shaved his head, and then he made five shots from five spots — both corners, both wings and straight center — at five different distances, making five free throws between each spot, for a total of 150 makes. It was like clockwork.
Allen would call it “a borderline case of OCD,” and in the introspective letter he wrote to his younger self, he said, “This will come at a heavy cost to some of your friends and family.” It also resulted in the sweetest looking shot you’ll ever see, and an all-around game, as Allen often reminded those who covered him, that was far more than that. He scored 24,505 points — more than all but 21 players in the history of the game — grabbed 5,272 rebounds and dished 4,361 assists in his 1,300 career games.
“The one thing I always learned when I was younger,” Allen said in 2012 of his various roles in the NBA, “if your percentages are at such a great efficient level, then the coaches have to look at it and say, ‘We’ve got to get this guy more touches, because he’s highly effective out there and efficient when he has the ball and when he scores, so we’ve got to get him more touches.’ So, that’s under my control.”
His legend grew with a starring role alongside Oscar-winner Denzel Washington as Jesus Shuttlesworth in Spike Lee’s 1998 film “He Got Game,” in which Allen played a highly recruited high school basketball player who was the coolest of customers. The nickname stuck with him, and many figured he resembled that character, but his Players’ Tribune piece revealed a more reserved introvert. You should read it.
There is one milestone he never reached. Back in 2011, Allen said, “The holy land of shooting is 50, 40 and 90. That’s been something I’ve aimed for my whole career.” He came close on several occasions, shooting better than 40 percent from 3 in eight seasons (and exactly 40 percent for his career) and 90 percent from the free throw line in 10 (89.4 percent for his career), but never could get his overall field goal percentage above 50 percent. He’ll have to settle for a career true shooting percentage of 58.0 — remarkable for a shooting guard who attempted almost 40 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
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Before Stephen Curry came along, there was no argument against Allen as the greatest shooter in NBA history, and there are those who believe his desire to come back for another season after 2013-14 — his fifth trip to the Eastern Conference finals and fourth NBA Finals appearance in his final seven seasons — was in part to create some separation for when Curry eventually challenges his 3-point record. Now that he’s retired, Allen can still argue he played in an era just before the league had gone completely 3-point crazy, attempting more than 600 3-pointers just once in his career. Curry has taken more than 600 3’s each of the last four seasons, including 886 last year. It’s a different league now.
The game may have passed Allen by, but that makes his accomplishments no less remarkable. Whether he’s satisfied or not, one thing’s for sure: Ray Allen is a future Pro Basketball Hall of Famer.
And now the man can pursue his real passion in retirement — playing golf. Kudos on the career, Ray.
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