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Ray Allen on Rajon Rondo, Colin Kaepernick, Kevin Garnett, and Activism

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Ray Allen on Rajon Rondo, Colin Kaepernick, Kevin Garnett, and Activism

 

Ray Allen is the NBA’s three-point king. His 2,973 treys are more than anyone who’s ever played—a feat he managed while shooting 40 percent from deep.

With the Miami Heat, Allen cashed in one of the greatest three-point field goals of all time when he splashed one from deep in the corner, with a hand in his face, during Game Six of the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. The Heat won that series, giving Allen his second championship ring.

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The first ring, of course, was the product of the Big Three era at the Boston Celtics. It might be standard now, but combining a group of star free agents to build a title challenger in a single offseason was novel in those days. It brought success, but also tension—which is a slice of what’s covered in Allen’s new book, From the Outside: My Journey Through Life and the Game I Love.

One section in particular has sparked a media firestorm. It recounts a borderline delusional episode from his former teammate, Rajon Rondo, who claimed to have carried that 2008 Celtics team to a championship,

Far more than that, though, the book is a meditation on the game and what it takes to succeed on the highest level. For Allen, success required him to practice every shot, everywhere, more times than anyone else. That’s why he became one of—if not the—greatest pure shooters to ever play the game. After all, we soon learned Allen made that Finals shot against the Spurs because he’d practiced it.

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Esquire interviewed Allen at the NBA Store this week before a book signing for From the Outside in partnership with Fanatics. We talked making threes, drama on the C’s, and whether professional dedication to the game is compatible with social activism in the tradition of Muhammad Ali.

You retired as the king of the three-pointer, but its role in the game has already grown and developed since. How do you feel about that?

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It was an evolution over the course of my career. My first NBA coach never liked us shooting threes. He thought it was settling. “Don’t settle, don’t settle.” That’s all I heard. It was like, “This is actually a shot we shoot a lot when we practice.” That’s why I was never thinking that I was a three-point shooter. I never was. I was just a slasher at first.

So the game certainly evolved. Kids that watched us growing up, they evolved into that type of player. They enjoyed it, and they wanted to shoot the three ball. That’s where we are today.

Is it the focus for teams now? Is that new?

You can’t have a big guy that doesn’t shoot. Because having a stretch four or stretch five, it changes the dynamics. Because if your five man can’t come out to the perimeter and guard the other five man, because he can shoot, then you’re in for a long night.

Do you feel your level of focus and dedication to the game set you apart?

No, I just believed that if I didn’t work at it—if I didn’t stay extra—then I wouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence as any great player in the NBA. It was my way of not being found out. I always felt that if you find out I’m actually not that good, then you’re going to take my paycheck away from me. So that was my constant homage to paying for my salary. Doing my job, and making sure that I earned my salary on a daily basis.

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In the book, you say Kevin Garnett is someone you really admired because he never took a game off. Was he unique in that regard?

He was in a land of his own. He just felt it was—he couldn’t just sit down. He wouldn’t not play. He was always doing whatever it took to put his body together and go out there and play. Even practice, he wouldn’t sit down in practice. He was like, “I’m not taking no day off. I need to be out here practicing.” Coach had to tell him to sit down.

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That was always what I knew, and we certainly were cut from the same cloth when it came to how you had to be accountable for your own work. I admired that in him, because I knew that was in me. I felt guilty if I worked into the gym and I decided not to practice that day.

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It’s a small slice of the book, but Rajon Rondo’s response to a story about him claiming credit for carrying the 2008 Celtics team to a championship—were you surprised by how that played out?

No, it’s sensationalism. Sensationalizing a story. The book is not about that situation, it’s not about him. It explains, from a beginning to ultimately my departure out of Boston—which a lot of people ask questions about. That’s the media, when you take it and you push it to a whole ‘nother level. His reaction is going to be whatever it is. I have no control over that.

Your introspection—and the intensity and focus it brought with it—were clearly a plus for you as a player. Were there ever times it caused problems?

There were times when guys asked me if I watched a particular game on a certain night, and I’d say no. And they were like, “Oh, you don’t watch games when you’re home.” And I was like, “No, because kids keep me busy.” What you learn as a father, as an athlete, as a player that’s been in the league 10-plus years—you have so many things going on, so many hats to wear. So I tried not to worry about whether we were all on different pages if when we came to the court we were on the same.

Yesterday, Gregg Popovich—a member of the NBA community—spoke out on social issues, and he’s been doing that regularly. Do you think that can be part of your job as a player, or should people be focused on the game?

Here’s probably the most disappointing thought that I have, and have had for the longest time. In light of all the social issues that we deal with now, and in the world today—we, as athletes, pay a lot of money in taxes. Most of us have kids. We have homes. We have families. So every issue that is in play affects us. Too often, we have fans—whether they’re cheering for us or against us—that tell us to “shut up and dribble,” or stop being political, or stay out of politics. Just stick to basketball. It’s disrespectful to all of us, because we do have positions. We do have perspectives.

 

“We pay a lot of money in taxes. Most of us have kids. We have homes. We have families. So every issue that is in play affects us.

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Most of us are way more educated than people give us credit for. Because we do pay attention to what’s going on around us. We have to stay awake and keep our eyes open and pay attention to what’s going on. And then, when we see something that’s unjust, we have to speak up on it. There’s a lot of things that are going wrong in America today.

We have it easy as black athletes now in America. We have it easy compared to what Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain—what those guys had to deal with back in the ’50s and ’60s. We have it easy. But they fought all the social injustices, just so they could exist and form their sport. So that we can now have the platform that we have. So we have to continue to fight those injustices and those societal ills that people put on us. Because we’re going to have to continue doing it for the next generation.

You know, Muhammad Ali got thrown in jail because he wouldn’t go to war. The inequalities that took place back in those days? It’s crazy. And people forget that. It’s the same now when somebody tells us—Colin Kaepernick. When they tell him it’s not the right time to kneel—I’m like, there’s never a right time for a protest. That’s the whole point of a democracy, is to be able to speak out. And when people get mad that people protest or speak out, it defeats the purpose of America. That’s why we have these rights: to be able to speak out against things that we don’t like. Everybody’s like, “Tell the athletes to be quiet.” But the athletes, we care. We care about the people that support us.

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We’ve been a part of a team our whole lives. We do things for our community because we’re a part of a team. When we leave the court, we go home and we have a community: we have our kids, we have our neighbors, we have a school system. That’s a community. We do what we can. That’s why it’s a responsibility for all of us not just athletes for everybody to speak out. We’re not just doing it for ourselves, we’re doing it for people that can’t speak up for themselves.

Who’s the greatest player you ever played against?

Michael Jordan.

In your rookie year, you were featured in the dunk contest alongside Kobe Bryant. What was that like? Did you know him going in?

We knew each other.

Did you see him as the big competition in that class?

We had no clue. We had no idea what our careers would entail. We just knew we were young guys, we wanted to make a splash in the league, and we could jump a little bit. So we were going to do whatever we could to be a part of it. You’re unbiased—you’re not jaded by All-Star Weekend, or the length of the season. You’re like, just let me do everything I can. When you get older, you realize you’ve got to save some energy.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.