The saying goes, “God helps those, who help themselves.”
Turned out to be a fitting mantra for the man who once portrayed Jesus.
It wasn’t the first game-winner of Ray Allen’s career, but it certainly was the most memorable to that point.
The junior guard from the University of Connecticut had struggled immensely in that nationally televised Big East Championship game against Georgetown.
His rival, Allen Iverson, had vastly outplayed him and with less than 30 seconds left, there was seemingly little doubt who would walk away the hero. Yet, there he was, ball in his hands, his team down by a point, with only seconds left on the clock, drove the lane, leapt into the air, surrounded by defenders and with no other option, did the only thing he could do, he let it fly.
That night, Ray Allen took the last unprepared shot of his life.
Ray Allen came to these Miami Heat in a wave of controversy. He all but begged on the team at the end of the 2012 series between his then Boston Celtics and the eventual champion, Miami Heat. He felt insulted. After all, he was the reason the original Big Three came together in the first place. Without him agreeing to come to Boston, Kevin Garnett never forces Minnesota to trade him. Without his outstanding shooting in the 2008 NBA Finals, there is no new banner hanging inside the new Garden. So after two years of always being the first one mentioned in trade rumors, a hurt and prideful Allen decided to go chase a championship. He left a lot of money on the table and even more bad feelings in New England, the place that he had called home for so many years.
June 18, 2013.
The Miami Heat were against the ropes—literally. As the security guards assembled alongside the court, the yellow tape had been unraveled like ropes on the sidelines. It was there to provide a barrier between the soon to be celebrating San Antonio Spurs, who were all but moments and a few free throws away from their first championship since 2007, and perhaps 17 of the remaining Miami fans who hadn’t left with the masses.
Ray Allen had already logged an impressive 37 minutes ‘til that point but with his team in need of fast points he would remain on the floor.
He had come to South Beach to chase one more title on a team built out of a shooters’ dream. He came to be paired with the game’s most dominating force, Lebron James, who also happens to be an incredible passer.
James has always been a player who understands that if the defense collapses on him, its best to fire a pass to the open shooter. Now, when that open shooter is the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers, he’s able to throw that pass with the confidence that Allen will knock it down.
Allen is just as sure of the results.
But his belief in his abilities is not from false posturing but from practice. And Allen’s teammates are the first to acknowledge, no one works harder at their craft and no one is more prepared.
His pregame shooting rituals are the stuff of legend. Always 3 hours early to the gym, always the same routine, always perfecting one of the basketball’s most beautiful sights. Ray Allen truly is the Jesus of the jump shot.
And when his routine is altered by a lineup change or a new match up has him playing in a different spot in the rotation, he doesn’t falter, he simply adjusts.
During Game 5, television cameras caught Allen, age 37, in the back hallways of the AT&T Center in San Antonio, taking imaginary jumpers up against the rafters preparing to go into the game. That’s the type of thing kids do when there is no hoop but still a burning desire to get better. At best it’s the habit of a high school player anxiously awaiting his moment to run out on to the court and play. But to Allen, its simply routine, its preparation, and it’s in the spirit of perfection.
The Heat had already mounted an incredible comeback. LeBron James had morphed into the man without the headband and single-handedly brought Miami back to the doorstep. But as hard as the King could knock, he simply would not be able to do it all himself. James was facing a second Finals’ triple-double performance that would find him on the losing side, but this time the stakes were so much higher.
A loss in Game 6 would prove the entire Miami experiment a failure. James had done all he could, but it still left him and his team, trailing by 3, with only seconds remaining.
But just as James’ final attempt in regulation would come careening off the rim, and Chris Bosh grabbed the biggest rebound of his life, suddenly all those years, all those days and all of those hours of Ray Allen’s preparation would come together in perfect purpose.
To hear him tell the story about that Georgetown game now, Allen always acknowledges that he was, in fact, looking to pass. But the look of terror he saw in his open teammates’ eyes let him know he would have to take the shot.
He was in the worst position in basketball, he left his feet, with nowhere to go. Ray Allen wasn’t prepared to take that shot against Georgetown but his hours of work allowed instincts to take over, and that pure follow through on his release gave his shot one of the friendliest shooter’s rolls in Big East history. It’s a shot of legend in his adopted home state and 17 years later its still the first thought many have of the game’s greatest shooter.
Truth be told, preparation is probably the only reason Ray Allen was able to be in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. He is in his 18th NBA season. He was part of the legendary 1996 NBA Draft and he’s the only one still playing. Sure, three other guys from that draft are still in the league, one of whom was a teenager at the time of the draft, but all of them have long since gone fishin’ this summer. Not Allen. He continues to prepare, continues to perfect and continues to be ready.
In 1996 Ray Allen was caught in mid-air. He wasn’t ready to take what was about to be the biggest shot of his career to that point. It would be the last time he let himself rely on pure talent to win.
That’s why there wasn’t a person in Connecticut who couldn’t have told you what was about to happen as Chris Bosh shuffled a pass to Allen with time winding down on his career and chance for another championship.
Allen instinctually found his footing behind the arc, caught the pass, and rose up off the ground. Tony Parker closed out and there was nowhere else to go, nothing else to do, but let it fly.
17 years later, same result, only this time, Ray Allen was prepared and there was never any doubt.
Scott Christopher is a guest writer for Next Impulse Sports. Follow him @ScottC247