Ray Allen’s big break into the mainstream came in the 1997 Spike Lee movie “He Got Game,” in which he portrayed Jesus Shuttlesworth, a basketball messiah of sorts. Demonstrating acting chops one wouldn’t expect from someone known to that point only as an athlete, Allen became an icon of sorts for his fictional splendor, many years later featuring the name “J. Shuttlesworth” on the back of his NBA nickname jersey. The movie resonated to the degree that a sequel has been discussed, including by Allen.
“Sequels to most movies are always fluff and not as good as the first,” Allen said in early 2014. “But it’s something we’ve been talking about for the last couple months. If we get a really good story line and are able to bring everybody back, then it would be something worth doing.”
That said, though his cinematic turn surely added a great deal to his overall mystique, Allen was far more than his famous acting role. One of the most feared and respected shooters in the history of the game, Allen is the NBA’s all-time leader in both regular-season and postseason three-pointers. He ranks fifth all-time in free-throw percentage, a shade behind Chauncey Billups. Allen is a 10-time All-Star and a two-time NBA champion.
He might not have been as strikingly phenomenal as Shuttlesworth in real life, but Allen has gone pretty far with his sweet-shooting ability — all the way to the Hall of Fame, most likely.
After bouncing around with his family to multiple Air Force bases in his youth, Allen has always thrived on structure and repetition, which manifests itself in his flawless shooting mechanics. Allen’s shot actually did need work when he arrived at the University of Connecticut, but before long, he resembled the sweet shooter who would later set records and win championships. While at UConn, Allen would have memorable duels with Big East foils Allen Iverson and Kerry Kittles.
Allen’s early years in the NBA showed him to be an excellent shooting guard, a versatile offensive threat who nonetheless carried himself with a smooth quietude that belied the brash superstars that studded the game at the time. Drafted by the relatively nondescript Milwaukee Bucks, Allen combined with fellow stars Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell to lead his team to prominence. The closest they came to the promised land was 2001, when Allen averaged 25.1 points in the playoffs, leading Milwaukee to the East Finals. However, they lost to the Sixers in Game 7; Allen scored 26 points, but Iverson trumped him with 44.
Midway through the 2002-03 season, Allen was traded to Seattle in a blockbuster that sent fellow future Hall of Famer Gary Payton to the midwest. Allen stepped up his game another level, maxing out at 26.4 points per game in 2006-07. But the Sonics would make the playoffs just once during his 4 1/2-year stay, bowing out to the Spurs in 2005.
After the 2007 season, Allen was traded to the Celtics, who also acquired Kevin Garnett. The duo was paired with perennial All-Star Paul Pierce and blossoming point guard Rajon Rondo, forging a superteam of sorts with rare legitimate chemistry. Allen’s scoring took a hit — he lost exactly nine points off his average — but he fit in seamlessly with his new teammates to instantly transform Boston into a powerhouse. Boston won 66 games in 2007-08, and then defeated the Lakers in six games in the NBA Finals to give Allen his first ring.
Boston would continue to contend, making another NBA Finals two seasons later but losing to the Lakers in a rematch, but their core began to show its age, though Allen broke the all-time three-pointer record in 2011. Following the 2011-12 season, Allen took a lower offer to sign with the defending-champion Heat, joining their Big 3 in an effort to win another title.
Allen’s stay in Miami was fruitful. In the first round of the 2013 postseason, he connected on his 322nd career playoffs three-pointer, breaking Reggie Miller’s record. But his biggest contribution was yet to come: In Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Spurs, Allen would connect on a miraculous game-tying three-pointer with 5.2 seconds left in regulation to keep Miami’s season alive. The Heat would win in overtime, with Allen hitting two pivotal free throws with less than a minute to go, and proceeded to win their second consecutive title in Game 7, making Allen a two-time NBA champion.
The Heat lost in five games to the Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals, and then LeBron James returned to Cleveland. Allen was rumored to consider joining James on the Cavs, but nothing came of it. He’s been rumored to be ready if the right situation came along, but if the lure of retirement and spending more time with his family wins out, it would be hard to blame him.
And if Allen has stroked his final buttery jump shot, he leaves behind a legacy few can match, complete with championship celebrations, three-point records and a likely induction in Springfield, Mass. It’s not quite life imitating art, but all things considered, it might just be better.