In 2007, Ray Allen had spent five years in Seattle. There were likely kids in Seattle who had Ray Allen jerseys. Sonics fans touted him as a great scorer. The team wasn’t great. But Allen had ties to the Sonics at that point, since coming over in a trade from Milwaukee. Allen didn’t have a choice when he was traded from Seattle to the Boston Celtics. But ask yourself, do you think he resisted for a heartbeat when they asked him about being traded to Boston to join Paul Pierce and conceivably Kevin Garnett (the deal hadn’t been pulled off yet)? Do you think he hesitated and said “what about my time with Seattle?”
No, because Ray Allen is not an idiot. Seattle’s time of even possibly being in contention was over. They were not a good team, but more importantly, they did not afford him the best opportunity to win. He was traded, but it might as well have been a free agency decision.
The point? With Ray Allen joining the Miami Heat, this is the second super-team Allen has joined in five years. And the first time, there were no comments about him being a traitor. There were no calls of Ray Allen or Kevin Garnett selling out. It was a feel-good story. “Isn’t it great? They joined the Celtics!”
I’m not here to deny that there are differences in the two situations. Seattle and Boston weren’t rivals. Boston hadn’t just slammed the door shut on Seattle’s improbable title run, with Paul Pierce scoring 45 points and leaving a half-empty building chanting “Let’s Go Sonics.” There wasn’t a special bond between Allen and Rashard Lewis, the other Sonics star spit off as the Sonics/Thunder began their rebuilding process. There was no Ubuntu in Seattle.
And Boston fans, this isn’t about you. You get to feel however you want, within reason. Fandom isn’t rational, you hate Miami, you loved Ray. It happens. This is about everyone else. The internet is subtly littered today with words like “traitor” and “sell-out.” There’s a quiet resentment even among national media that, despite LeBron James’ seeming rehabilitation in terms of his public persona, still has an old-school attachment to Boston and a poisoned resentment of Boston. Kevin Garnett screams and pounds his chest? “Look at the intensity!” LeBron James poses after a dunk? “What a preening fool!” The double-standard in the reaction between the two teams is enough to force a multiple-personality disorder.
As if joining a super-team in Boston is a heart-warming story and joining a super-team in Miami is a travesty representative of the terrible team-ups that are occurring. I’ve been beating this drum for two years, but guess who started this trend? Guess what the first modern-era superstar team to kick off this trend was?
Your Boston Celtics.
Maybe if nothing else this is a revisionist criticism of the idea that Ubuntu mattered. We bought into the concept that the Celtics were truly great because they sacrificed. They were different from other teams because of their attitudes and sacrifice. Yet there was always an order of ego in Boston, with Pierce and KG at the top, and Rondo climbed that ladder as he got better. Adrian Wojnarowski points to the reasons why Allen left, and they include Rajon Rondo’s personality, the Celtics’ repeated efforts to trade him, the ways that the relationship was damaged enough to drive Allen to South Beach.
But let’s not get this twisted. Allen’s not burning bridges on his way out. Boston will burn those bridges as he leaves, and that’s fine. But Allen is a true professional. He’ll say nothing but good things about his time in Boston, and about their 2008 championship. But just as the Celtics elected to consider trading him because they felt it was their best chance at winning a title, Allen left because he knows a truth that no one else in Boston is willing to accept.
Their run is over.
Yeah, they made the Eastern Conference Finals, on the back of a Derrick Rose injury, a Sixers team that almost but couldn’t quite get its head out of the offensive sand long enough to knock them off, and an NBA seeding process that continues to boggle by not re-seeding after the first round. They pushed the Heat to the bring of elimination. It was right there. Even in Game 7.
But if you were paying attention, if you watched the Celtics’ reaction and the way Miami played, you’d know it.
LeBron James ended the Celtics’ title run. Not for last season. For this era.
James scored 45 points, locked up the East, locked up the Garden, turned out the lights on the Big 3 era, and as it turns out, took Ray Allen back to South Beach with him not just for Game 7, but for the end of his career. That’s when it was over. Boston’s lead in Game 7 never felt safe, never felts secure, there could be no confidence. And when it came down, they buckled. The strain was too much, the age was too great, the Heat were too good.
And so Ray Allen goes where he can win a title. Boston can still be the third best team in the East. Have some injury luck, again, and they can be right back in the Eastern Conference Finals. But the problem with age is that once it starts to have an impact, it only hurts more. Allen will suffer that as well. But Boston’s dependent on it. Jason Terry will help, but there were signs that he was slowing down last season. Not everyone starts the slide at the same time. Boston’s still relevant, they’re just contenders.
And beyond that, we act as if these rivalries are real. Like they matter. Paul Pierce was hanging out with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James during the lockout. Garnett and Kobe Bryant are close friends. Guess what, kids? As has been said so often, it’s just laundry.
Ray Allen’s no traitor, he’s just a player who decided to pursue his last, best chance at a title. He took less money to join a better team. In an era that has seen stars in their primes make worse decisions by choosing the money over the better team, maybe we should hold off on the witch hunt.
Funnily enough, “traitor” isn’t a position on the basketball floor.