Stern test for NBA

The Vertical
Yahoo! Sports

CHICAGO – The commissioner has long had impeccable news sense, a crackerjack columnist’s instincts on where to land his private jet in the NBA playoffs. David Stern descended onto the United Center to present Derrick Rose his Rookie of the Year trophy on Thursday night, to lord over a Game 3 of the best series in a brutal opening round.

The Bulls were pitiful, the United Center deflated and underlying drama of the night turned out to be the disturbing story of a Boston Celtics guard, Tony Allen, whom sources say has made a very bad enemy in his hometown. Allen had been the target of alleged death threats for several months now, sources told Yahoo! Sports, and the Celtics’ visit to Chicago is now blanketed with around-the-clock protection.

“I wouldn’t want this dude after me,” one longtime Chicago friend of Allen’s said Thursday night.

As Stern marched through the United Center with his usual tailing of executive underlings and security, the forceful presence of several NBA security officers surrounding the visiting bench and warily eyeing the stands were on high-alert.

Yes, this is where amazing happens.

“Is that what you want to write about?” Allen snapped when approached to discuss the threats. “Is that what you want to write about?”

When a Celtics reserve plays in a 107-86 victory over the Bulls with a target on his back, well, there isn’t much of a choice. Boston elders wouldn’t go into details, but are resigned to the reality of the stress that this will bring to a franchise that’s been buried with issues. From Danny Ainge’s heart attack, to the losses of Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe, to a mysterious late foot injury to Rajon Rondo on Thursday night, no Celtics or league official is thrilled to be burdened with the Tony Allen matter.

“It is what it is,” Doc Rivers told Yahoo! Sports late Thursday night outside the Celtics’ locker room. His tie was loosened, and the Celtics coach was mostly inclined to speak of his captain, Paul Pierce, who swiftly and surely obliterated the Bulls with 24 points. The Bulls had made the slippery leap from hopeless underdog to upset favorites upon returning to a jazzed United Center. The Bulls were uneasy and unsettled, and looked overcome with sudden expectation.

With bad series and irrelevant franchises conspiring for a sluggish start to the playoffs, Stern needed Boston and Chicago to go the distance. Now, Pierce appears to have reclaimed his mid-range genius on the Bulls, and the Celtics finally looked like themselves on the defensive end.

Nevertheless, the Allen issue is real and a concern. The Celtics were too beaten up to leave him back in Boston, and spare themselves a police state of security for the weekend. Allen, 26, played high school ball at Crane High School in Chicago and still considers the city home. A judge found him not guilty of aggravated assault in April of 2007, a case based on a fight outside a Chicago restaurant two years earlier.

Sources say this issue has nothing to do with that case, that Allen has been a part of a dispute that’s gone unresolved for over a year. Friends are worried for him, and so are the Celtics. In fact, one long-time Allen friend was told by a Chicago police officer, a source said, that he would be wise to steer clear of the Celtic this weekend. Considering the source of these threats, no one with knowledge of the issue is dismissing these protection steps as an overreaction.

The Boston Globe’s Marc Spears, who broke the story along with Yahoo! Sports on Thursday night, reported that threats had been on Allen when the Celtics visited Chicago on March 17. Yet, Allen stayed back in Boston with an injured thumb and it wasn’t until this trip that he returned to his hometown. He played eight minutes in the Celtics’ victory, and did little to distinguish himself. Whatever the issues, this was an embarrassing episode for the Celtics and the NBA. Here was Stern, making the rounds in the United Center, with his security force watching the back of Allen for who-knows-why. Someone’s angry with a Celtics reserve, and his teammates will be made to pay with suffocating security presence the rest of the weekend.

It is what it is, Doc Rivers said, shrugging, but this isn’t what Boston needs with a season on the line. Whatever has Tony Allen jammed up, it has the Celtics and the NBA a little uneasy, and a little embarrassed. There was some show of force behind the Boston bench on Thursday night, and yes Commissioner Stern, this is where amazing happens.

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