The Things I’ll Never Forget

Ray Allen
·11 min read

There’s this scene in Forrest Gump, all the recruits are sitting on their bunks, and they’re taking apart and putting together their rifles while being timed by the drill sergeant. Gump finishes putting together his weapon and yells out, “Done, drill sergeaaant!" And the drill sergeant goes, “Goddamnit, Gump!! How did you dismantle that weapon so fast?” Gump says, “You told me to, drill sergeaaant!” I was just getting to UConn when I first saw that movie. That time when you’re on your own, and you’re trying to figure out the world, kind of growing up, figuring out who you are. The joke is that Gump just had this really straightforward way of looking at everything. But the message also made a lot of sense: Don’t overthink it.

When I was a kid I would always say to myself stuff like, If you do this, then that is going to happen. Like if I was walking around the neighborhood, I might say, “Alright, if I throw this rock across the street and hit that tree, then that means the teacher’s not going to give us homework tomorrow.” Or if I was playing basketball, it might be like, If I can make three left-hand layups, then I can leave the court. It was like I was tempting my fate or something. My way of convincing myself that if I could perform any random little thing, I’d win something down the line.

I was never diagnosed with OCD, but I always said that I had it. When I was in the NBA, my routines had to be down pat. Like whatever shoes I wore to the game or whatever shoes was in my locker, they had to be exactly side by side, right in front of the locker. The same way, every game day. Another thing — when I first checked into a game, I always made sure I stepped over the out-of-bounds line. I never stepped on it.

If you say you want to be special, you have to do special things.Ray Allen

Calhoun was the guy I needed at that time in my life. I’ll never forget this one lesson. We had just finished practice, and Calhoun called me over and asked me if I had made a hundred percent of my shots. Now, I’d had a pretty good practice. But 100%??? Calhoun said, “If you want to be special, then you need to do the things that these other guys aren’t willing to do.” If you say you want to be special, you have to do special things.

Back in ’96, the lifestyle of an NBA player was much more simple than it is now. We obviously didn’t have to have a social media presence, and we really didn’t have to have a brand. Our brand was, You go out there and you play great basketball, and people will love you and you’ll have a lot of fans. Most of the guys that I knew weren’t trying to be famous. We knew that by playing hard and helping our teams win, all the stuff off the court would automatically come along with it — commercials, TV, movies. We just wanted to be some of the best that ever did it.

One night in the Garden, we were playing the Knicks and Spike was in the front row like he always is. It was my rookie year. He walks up to me at the end of the game and says he might have a part for me in a movie if I auditioned at the end of the season. Season ends, I go in and read parts for something called He Got Game, not really expecting anything. But I guess out of all the guys who read, I was the best candidate that he saw fit. The whole thing — being on a set, working with Denzel and Spike — it was basically like being in college again. I felt like I was in way over my head. But I was committed, and I knew if I got there early and worked, I’d be able to do what they needed me to do. And the rest is history.

20th Century-Fox/Getty Images
20th Century-Fox/Getty Images

I was a good basketball player because I cherished it. That made me professional, and at times, great.

If you know a great athlete, I’ll show you somebody who can do a lot of things well.

You practice enough and you become an expert, you become professional. You become so dialed in to what you’re doing that when you play a game, you do exactly what you’ve done over and over in practice. I remember people would be like, “Wow, you’re the best free throw shooter in the league.” And I’m thinking, I’m just the guy that comes in here and shoots every single day.

When I was in Milwaukee, I don’t think I really understood the relevance to this larger thing I was a part of. You know, a franchise, a history. Back then, I was just a young player trying to be a part of a league. I get a lot of social media comments and messages from people who are grown now, and they’re like, “Man, you were my favorite player growing up. Me and my friends used to watch all the games.” And that’s something that you don’t understand sometimes while you’re a part of it.

In Boston, for the first time, it felt like I was a part of something bigger. You could just feel it. Being a Celtic — probably the most legendary franchise in the NBA — you can feel the significance of where you are, what you’re part of.

Sports taught me this: A rising tide floats all boats.

The thing that I learned the most about winning is just how much on the same page everybody has to be.Ray Allen

Honestly, I didn’t care about winning a championship. Yes, I wanted to win, but you have to think, I didn’t win up until my 12th year. It didn’t make me a loser in my mind, I just hadn’t won a championship yet. To win a championship, it requires a lot of things to fall into place. And the thing that I learned the most about winning is just how much on the same page everybody has to be.

I heard a player one time, his team had won a championship and he was doing an interview in the middle of the court. And he says, “I look forward to coming back, because there are a lot of things that I didn’t get to do. And I’d like to come back and win it again and do it my way.” What?? I was thinking, Dude, you did everything that you were supposed to do. It’s like he wants to come back and win differently — on his terms — the next time. And there never was a next time.

Miami — June 18, 2013. It was the sixth game of the Finals. We’re playing San Antonio. We’re down three. Look, I remember everything. The building, the ride that we were on. My family was in town. Now mind you, a year removed, I’m in Miami losing as a Celtic. So being a part of this run and helping us get to this point at the end of the season was unforgettable. We went on a 27-game win streak that season. You don’t forget that. You never forget that.

One thing I’ll never forget? The feeling of hitting a shot, and bringing everybody to their knees. That was always such an exhilarating feeling. There’s nothing like that. When it’s all over, you’ll try to challenge yourself to do all these different things, be able to hit shots on a golf course. Or go train, ride a bicycle, run on the street. But there’s nothing else like that, that brings about that adrenaline.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

I like to read books about why as a society we observe certain traditions, why we follow certain customs. There’s always a reason for everything that we do. And what I’ve always learned is that it’s not the strongest or the smartest who survive. It’s the ones most willing to adapt.

I try to teach my kids that being tough, or being a man, doesn’t mean acting like you don’t care about things.

There’s a point in life where you almost think you’re going to live forever. But when you see somebody that you knew, somebody close to you, that passed away, it teaches you more about life than you could ever imagine.

When you go back and learn about the past, it teaches you a thing or two, and you realize that you’re just kind of this cog in this day and place and time, where you’ll have a little piece of this history. And then before you know it, the residue of who you are will be gone. But it’s possible to make some type of impact on this place while you’re here.

Being tough, or being a man, doesn’t mean acting like you don’t care about things.

Sometimes I kind of wish that I had grown up in the ’50s or ’60s. I know — why in the hell would I choose to live in that era, right? But it’s really just understanding and respecting the struggles that guys like Bill Russell and Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali went through.

That’s probably one of the most disappointing things about my generation, is that we lost the sense of that fight. You know what I mean? We didn’t have that struggle that the generation before us had, so maybe we took things for granted.

Look, there’s a couple ways you can look at that era. At the time, we knew as players, it was on us to grow the pie. It’s all connected — the more money that the NBA made, the more money the players made. If we shrunk the pie and hurt the brand, then our money would also shrink. So we did everything we could to help promote the league and do the right thing, so that we could keep growing the pie. But did we forget about the things that we were representing? Did we forget that we were standing on our ancestors’ shoulders? I’ll put it this way. Muhammad Ali went to JAIL because he didn’t want to go fight for a country that didn’t recognize him as an equal citizen.

Flash-forward, and I’m looking at my TV seeing NBA players in marches. That same struggle for justice and equality has resurfaced, and a lot of the players now, they want to have a voice. That’s the difference. They’re not afraid to fight. I mean, that’s a fight that cost Kaepernick his job, right?? But the leagues have had to respect that fight for racial justice, and they’ve had to acknowledge it.

Al Bello/Getty Images
Al Bello/Getty Images

This summer, when the players sat out, I was like, Miss the whole season. Miss the whole season. Like, Sit down. This is where your value is because there’s so much money built around professional sports. This is your ability to show them.

When athletes decide that something means something to them, they have to fight for what’s right. They have to stand up and speak. We have to continue the traditions and the legacies of the people who have gotten us to this place, so we can then leave a greater legacy for those who are coming behind us.

So much has happened in the world in the last eight to 10 months that I think people are starting to engage a little bit more. For the longest time, Black men, we were the enemy. We were Public Enemy No. 1. We were the usual suspect. Still are, in some cases. But I think now people are starting to understand the value and the worth of Black men in this society. What we have to do now is, we have to show up and we have to show out by representing. By using our voices and being accountable.

I like to think that now, at the age of 45, I still have my whole life ahead of me.

There are people in my life who can’t wait to tell me a story. There are people who want to hear what I have to say about something that happened in their life. When you have that connectivity with people, it doesn’t matter what other people say about you.