On Tuesday night, I sat at a bar booth smugly explaining to a couple of Miami Heat pals that they were deluded. I threw out the terms Boston was offering to re-sign Ray Allen — two years for $12 million, doubling what was then reported to be Miami’s offer — and took a pull on my beer and declared, definitively, that there was no way upstanding gentleman Ray Allen was leaving Boston for less money. By Saturday afternoon, I was being mocked with texts of doctored photos of Ray Allen rising up for that immaculate jumper of his in a Heat jersey. And as I licked my wounds, I didn’t think much about how his defection would impact Danny Ainge’s offseason plans, or what kind of minutes he’d be getting in Miami. Instead I thought, so should I hate Ray Allen now?
I’m an adult, and so I haven’t irrationally hated a player for a personal decision in years. But when the news was confirmed on Friday night that Ray Allen had signed with the Heat for, yep, less money — when the dust cleared , it was $9 million over three years — I felt that old familiar bile.
Why Ray would want to head somewhere where the touches would be even harder to come by. About how, after five years in Massachusetts, he could just uproot his family like that. But mostly what stuck in my throat was that he took less money. As Ray flew down to Miami to get chatted up by Pat Riley, Celts fans sunk back into the warm comfort of being on the right side, for once, of decades of athletes (with some notable aberrations, of course) bluntly prioritizing money over everything else. And then Allen said, forget all that, and that’s when things got weird.
Quickly, all manner of justifications as to why Ray would leave floated up. Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski’s reported:
[Allen] hated the way Ainge dangled him in trade talks, hated that the Celtics told him he was on his way to Memphis in a deal at the March deadline only to have [Doc] Rivers later tell him the trade was dead. Allen hated that Rivers didn’t give him his starting job back after he returned from a late-season ankle injury, and hated that it always felt like he was the Celtics star made to sacrifice above the rest.
Also: he hated Rajon Rondo?
My base-level initial reaction was to go line by line, repudiating every scrap of rumor that justified why Ray left. Dude, everyone gets dangled in trade talks. You lost your starting spot because Avery Bradley was playing better than you, not because anyone disrespects you. And for Chrissakes, no one gets along with Rajon Rondo! But that felt real awkward, real fast. That was just me on the opposite side, digging around for reasons to justify why, as a rational adult and all, I can hate a person for deciding to play basketball for a team other than the team I want him to play basketball for. Allen didn’t want to come back, and he was willing to take less money to make it happen. Why did he leave Boston? He left Boston because he wanted to leave Boston.
On Friday night, New Orleans guard Jarrett Jack tweeted, “Am I wrong for thinking ray allen is a traitor for signing with his rival team the heat? Tell me what u think!!!!!” (And I guess Jack isn’t too concerned with Allen directing a steely, tightly coiled sense of revenge toward flushing threes in his grill all season, because that tweet still hasn’t been deleted.)
Okay, Jarrett, here’s what I think. I think traitor isn’t the right word. It isn’t the right word in part because this is neither real war we’re talking about, nor is it 6-year-olds playing make-believe war. But I also think it isn’t the right word because it turns out I don’t feel betrayed by Ray Allen. I’m just going to miss him, that’s all. And when he comes back to Boston next season, in a non-Photoshopped Heat jersey this time, I’ll give him a tight smile and polite nod and try not to think about the good times we once had.
I’m a little hurt, and a little confused. But I’m not mad. It does turn out, though, that even as a rational adult, I can still feel feelings about a guy making a decision to be paid to play basketball for a team other than the team I want him to be paid to play basketball for. And so that’s kind of nice to know.