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Friday, February 11, 2011
Finally, an overnight sensation

By Scoop Jackson
ESPN.com

BOSTON -- He sat in the gym for the team of the city that has (finally) adopted him as one of its own.

It's the eve of the night he took over the statistic that would make him the greatest 3-point shooter of all time. As he stood, ending his conversation with teammate Nate Robinson, reporters and videographers rushed him like he was Lindsay Lohan leaving a courtroom. Fifteen years deep into his NBA career, Walter Ray Allen has finally become an overnight sensation.

"I look at [breaking the record] as [being in] good company," he says in our hourlong conversation before his record-breaking game against the Lakers. "Being No. 2 for the last couple of years, I've always looked at it as [just] being in good company with Reggie [Miller]. I mean, you are talking about some of the best shooters of all time. I come into the league and I'm looking at all of these great shooters and I'm thinking, 'These guys shoot the ball so well.' I'm thinking they are just dead-eye shooters. So I don't even know how I ended up being where I am now."

He knows. But he refuses to let a shot from 23 feet, 9 inches define him. He refuses to let a jump shot with the beauty of Claudia Lynx be all he is, how he's seen. He refuses to let 15 years of supreme productivity in the NBA be enough.

Despite the 2,561, that's not who he is.

He's the epitome of a phenomenon that is all too rare in sports: an overtly conscientious black athlete. One who wanted to be like Mike, but never had a problem being all parts Martin, Malcolm, Marcus and Mandela at the same time.

"The 'I'm not a role model' idea … it resonates with a lot of athletes," he said. "Whether [they] believe it or not, [we] are role models because [we] are performing on a level that everybody is watching.

Dobbs Fifteen years deep into his NBA career, Walter Ray Allen has finally become an overnight sensation.

"Sometimes, if guys are talking about something that's irrelevant, like music videos or what happened with, you know… [I say: "Like Miley Cyrus' new tattoo"] I turn off to it. Because I'm thinking about other things, like what happened to the president the other day or what's going on in Egypt. That's the conversation I might have because that's what affects all of us and how the world is shaped around us."

He's the athlete who used the word "serendipitous" when describing what it felt like to break this once sacred record while the record-holder was in the building to give him his blessing.

"I think about all of the shots I took, I never worried about shooting a 3. It was just a weapon. I dunked, hit some midrange [shots], but 3-pointers is where I ended up being. You know, you embrace it."

When he talks, Allen speaks with an understated passion. The uncertainty of what he was going to become as a ballplayer -- of finding himself in the game's history -- that once could be found in his voice is gone forever.

He is not the same person he once was. At some point, something in him changed. Something changed him. "I'm still silly," he says. But I can't tell. No one can. Not from the outside looking in.

To know him is to know that the stoic-faced, never-laughing, strictly business, opposite of Dwight Howard, close-to-emotionless person Ray Allen presents himself to be now is not necessarily who he is, but it is who he's become.

Kids. Marriage. Trades. Tragedy. Parenthood. Life. Life's challenges. Professional responsibility. Professional accountability. Chasing a ring. Getting a ring. Chasing 2,561. Making 2,562 … and counting. All while dealing with a son with diabetes.

All have hardened him. All have suppressed the silliness.

Ray Allen
Ray Allen has a perfect jumper, but he won't let it define him.
"Yeah, I've changed," Allen easily concedes. "People always tell you when they see you on the cusp of doing something great, whether you are going to be drafted or whether you are going to make a lot of money or you just blow up and become real famous, you are going to change … [I] try to set this precedence of who I'm supposed to be because now these other guys are trying to decide if they are going to follow us [veteran players] or not. So, I had to change who I was. But for the people that are around me every day, the ones who let me pop my collar a little bit, I haven't changed."

Neither has his shot. It's the reason we are talking about him.

The shot. The one where his wrist doesn't bend all the way down the way everyone else has been taught to shoot. The one that is Rachel Berry to Reggie Miller's Betty Suarez … has been called one of sports' most beautiful sights. An eighth wonder.

I ask Ray to associate his thing of beauty with something of beauty: A woman.

"Right now, in today's age, I'd have to say, if you compared my shot to a woman, it'd have to be Halle Berry."

"I don't by any means think that my shot is great because I know what it takes to get to where I am. [I] only base that off of hearing people talk," he says. "[For me] it's always like, 'Man, I made that [shot] but it didn't look as fluid as I wanted it to look.' [But] everybody wants Halle Berry. Like, 'Man, I wish I could date her,' or 'She'd be great,' and people always say to me, 'Man, I need a jump shot like yours!' And I say, 'You can get it, it's just a matter of how much you want to work at it.' It's the same thing with a beautiful woman. Do you want a beautiful woman on the outside or a beautiful woman on the inside? Do you want the beauty of the shot or the beauty of the result? Halle has both."

In the end, there's always more. There always is when dealing with a living contradiction: a 35-year-old All-Star who is having possibly the best year of his career, a player whose career ,15 years in, is still a career in progress. For Ray Allen, this time that has been given to him to illuminate is all something he can do without.

Some people just don't need light to shine.

"I'm not petty about the game of basketball," he reinforces, saying what he was too polite to say on the podium last night after he turned over his Jordan XIIIs that he had played in to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

"I don't need people to pat me on my back and tell me I'm great or say, 'Awesome job.' I know I get paid to come in here and do a job. If people love me, they love me. If people hate me and don't like me as a player, then … it makes it fun for me to go out there and defy the things [people] expect from me. Like, 'He can't do this.' And then I go out there and do it. And then just build on that every single night. That's what I enjoy. That's fun."

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for Page 2.