We’re a little worried about this lockout. We want basketball. But in case we don’t get basketball, we’re going to give ourselves a season.
The following is a work of fiction and no one was harmed in the writing of this story. These works will be based on how we think the 2011-12 season would play out if the lockout ended and the NBA is able to play all 82 games. Every other week, we will have a fictional work until the lockout is over. This is the first. The heart believes it will be a singular work and the NBA will be back in business soon. The head, sadly, realizes that it may not be the case.
BOSTON, June 1, 2012 — Ray Allen sat at his locker with a thin towel draped over his shoulders and another wrapped tight around his still-slim waist, a waist that hasn’t gained an inch over Allen’s professional career. His feet were in Jordan brand sandals, his toes separated by pieces of foam cut to fit. Allen said he learned the trick early in his career from a vet on his first team, the Milwaukee Bucks. The foam prevented the toes from sliding and smashing into the toecap and helped minimize bruising and torn toenails. Combine that with regular pedicures the he received to prevent ingrown toenails and Allen’s feet — the base from which he made an all-time NBA record of 2,703 three-pointers — looked as if they could carry him for another 16 seasons.
The scoresheet from the Celtics’ epic 99-98 Game 7 overtime loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals lay between Allen’s pristine feet. The rest of him looked spent. He had just played 51 of the game’s 53 minutes. If he saw his line, it read like this:
M: 51; FG: 13; FGA 19; 3P: 7; 3PA: 11 FT: 6; FTA: 6 REB: 3; AST: 3; BLK: 0; STL: 1; TO: 3; PTS: 39
The 39 points were the most he scored all season, regular or post. The 51 minutes were easily the most. Allen, a free agent, had no reason to hang his head in what had been his best game of this unusual season.
Yet there it hung and his shoulders sagged. Allen’s elbows rested on his knees and his fingers dangled like branches from a weeping willow. The Celtics locker room was quiet and reporters, who had just been informed that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce would be the only Celtics to go to the podium, milled about waiting for that precious eye contact from a player, a signal that he was ready to open up or spout cliches.
Most of the reporters had turned away from Allen. They knew that he never spoke to them just after the locker room opened. In fact, it was rare to see Allen there at that time at all. By the time reporters entered after the cooling off period, Allen was gone to treatment, then the showers. If the local scribes did catch a glimpse of him, it was fleeting, like an apparition. When Allen did emerge from the players’ sanctuary, he strode to his locker in a bespoke suit, put a couple things down, usually the book he was reading and a DVD of the Celtics’ next opponent, and then turned around to face the media.
But in the silence that suffocates a space after a devastating defeat, there was what sounded like a sharp sob coming from the direction of Allen’s locker. Then another. Any murmuring between reporters ceased and their heads turned in Allen’s direction. Allen’s shoulders heaved once, then again. He pinched the bridge of his nose with his right hand and made a small circular motion. There was another sharp sound. The seasoned Boston scribes stood in stunned silence. None of them had ever seen this.
If Allen were upset, it would be understandable. It was the worst season of his 16 year, soon-to-be Hall of Fame career. He missed 41 games after the Pacers’ Danny Granger tripped trailing Allen on a screen and rolled into Allen’s right knee in a game on Jan. 6. Allen feverishly worked his way back from arthroscopic surgery. He was ready to return at the end of February, but suffered a setback as doctors had to go back in for a second surgery.
When Allen finally returned against Utah in late March, he came off the bench for the first time in his career. He couldn’t get his timing and his sturdy legs, which propelled him around picks and provided the springboard for the smoothest jumper in NBA history, were now shaky. So was Allen’s confidence.
“I’m working hard to get my rhythm back,” Allen told the Boston Globe in April. “My knee isn’t responding as I hoped it would. Your legs are so important to your shot.”
Throughout his career, Allen’s work ethic had been well chronicled, almost fetishized by the media. They noted how he arrived at the arena at the same time, ate at the same time and went through his pregame routine at the same time every game day. As a military brat, Allen knew routine as discipline and discipline as order. If there was order in his life, Allen knew success, built on a solid foundation of meticulous work, would follow. It did. He won a Big East tournament title at UConn, won a gold medal with Team USA in the 2000 Sydney games, made 10 All-Star appearances for three different franchises and played Jesus in a Spike Lee movie.
Then there was the crowning achievement in his career, the NBA title he helped the Celtics win in 2008. He had come close to the Finals with the Bucks in 2001 and nowhere near them with the Sonics. An alpha dog in Seattle, Allen subjugated his game to blend in with Pierce and Garnett. The result: the C’s 17th NBA title.
But as Allen struggled in his comeback, Yahoo! reported a Celtics source as saying they weren’t going to re-sign Allen, who wanted a two-year extension with the same player option he had when he re-signed for two seasons in 2010. The source noted Allen would be nearly 39 when the extension ended and that it would be in the C’s best interest to seek a younger option at two guard. Combined with the physical ailments, Allen’s world, which he had so diligently worked to put in order, was now out of whack. For the first time in his career, Allen was coming off the bench, a move Celtics coach Doc Rivers said was necessary to limit the guard’s minutes. Allen averaged 12.6 points per game and shot .332 from three-point range, both career lows for a shooter, who, if his jumper could sing, it would sound like Marvin Gaye.
Allen and that melodious jumper re-emerged in the postseason. He averaged 19.4 points in the first round against the franchise for whom he first played, the Bucks. Against Orlando in the second round, he shot a scintillating .435 from three-point range. In the East finals, Allen averaged 24.3 for the first six games running Dwyane Wade, who missed 26 games this year with shoulder problems, through a series of screens designed to bang Wade around.
Then came Game 7 and that overtime and those 39 points, the final three of which gave the C’s an 98-96 lead with 3.4 seconds left in OT. Allen was back. The Celtics were on the precipice of their third Finals appearance in five seasons before Mario Chalmers, the Heat’s fourth option, found himself open for a short-corner three right in front of the C’s bench. Swish.
And now, Allen sat at his locker after what was more than likely his last game as a Boston Celtic and he was â€¦ crying? Allen let go of his nose, stood and reached for something in his locker, his back to the reporters. When he turned to head to the showers, Allen instantly noted the sympathetic looks on the reporters’ faces and frowned.
“Hiccups,” Allen said in his flat baritone, his eyes dry and jaw set. “Pinch your nose, hold your breath, close your eyes tight and count to 20. Works every time.”
Now, some reporters looked incredulous.
“You all thought I was crying?” Allen said, neither his expression nor his tone changing. “You know me better than that.”
They did. They knew he’d be back in about 15 minutes, freshly showered, freshly dressed, prepared to answer questions for however long it took to ask them. The reporters would pepper him about the game (“Hell of a game. I thought we had it, we just got caught looking at LeBron and Wade.”), quiz him about his knee (“It’s a little sore, but I’m 37. Everything is sore.”) and query him about his future (“I’d love to be here. Celtics green is the best green I’ve worn in my career. It’s where I won a title. It’s important.”)
With that, Allen paused and pinched his fingers to his nose again. A reporter tried levity.
“You could say that,” Allen said. “This whole season has been one.”
He looked over the reporters as if to say, “anything else.” One reporter stepped forward to say good luck and thanks. Allen and the man exchanged pleasantries. Allen then grabbed his book — “Collapse” by Jared Diamond — and his coat. He started to walk out of the locker room with the confidence some mistook for arrogance.
“Yep,” Allen said to no one in particular, “a hiccup. Can’t go out like that.”
With that, Ray Allen, turned, smiled and was gone.