February 13, 2011

'Trey Allen': Jesus Shuttlesworth makes it 2,561

Life imitates art, and art imitates real life, and round and round we go. A few days ago, a 35-year-old Ray Allen shot two three-pointers - numbers 2,560 and 2,561 - to clinch the record for most 'treys' made in NBA history, going ahead of another legendary shooter, Reggie Miller. And if life and art are indeed so well intertwined, then Ray's success story has been like a movie.

Matter of fact, they did kind of make a movie. Not about him, but starring him. Ray Allen was Jesus Shuttlesworth in 'He Got Game', perhaps the greatest basketball movie ever made (Thanks a lot, Spike Lee). In it, Ray, aka, Jesus (named so after Knick legend Earl 'The Pearl' Monroe, not the Messiah) is a very talented high-school player whose only obstacles are off the court, in terms of a conflicted relationship with his father (Denzel Washington) and a bunch of greedy hands trying to get a share of his success.

The real Ray Allen probably didn't go through such dramatic issues, but his life on the basketball court should be more a documentary and an instructional tape for aspiring basketball players than a Hollywood thriller. Year after year after year, from Milwaukee to Seattle to Boston, Ray Allen kept shooting, kept scoring, and somewhere, between the ages of 21, when he was picked 5th overall in the 1996 draft to 35, when he is having the most efficient season of his career, he figured out the art of consistency.

About two weeks before Ray's historic night in Boston, ESPN's Bill Simmons wrote a well-researched piece about how some of the game's veterans today had found a way to defy the age curve and keep getting better, and he cited the examples of players such as Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Steve Nash, and of course, Ray Ray. After Allen's record breaking night, Celtics coach Doc Rivers hit the nail on the head when he said: "If you’re a young player just look at Ray Allen if you want a long career."

At 35, Allen continues to be the league's model pro. After 12 years of success, Allen finally got his chance at the league's ultimate prize when the Celtics won the NBA trophy in 2008. And then he kept getting better. The Celtics are now amongst the best teams in the league again, and Allen has been their most consistent performer.

Here is the record-breaking three:

Now that he's on top of that three-pointers list with his 2,561st, you can be sure that he'll stay there for quite some time. From the active players in the league, the next highest is Jason Kidd is 1,756 (who won't be catching up because he's damn old and he can't shoot). Peja Stojakovic has 1,723 (too old/washed up to catch up). Chauncey Billups has 1,690, and then you have Rashard Lewis and Jason Terry. Simply put, the record is safe with Ray for quite some time now.

Now, if you haven't really seen him play, it might be easy to pigeonhole Allen as a one-dimensional player: someone who shoots the three really well and that's that. But watching Ray Allen is a whole different story: from coming off screens perfectly, attacking the basket, running the floor, and of course, being a feared pest on defense, Allen has a variety of skills in his arsenal to offset opponents. There are few players you would choose over Ray Allen to take that game-winning shot. It's no surprise that he was once again named in this year's All Star Team.

He is also, along with the likes of Kobe Bryant and Gilbert Arenas, known as one of the hardest workers in the NBA. Dig a little deeper into Mr. Shuttlesworth's story and you'll find inspirational stories and hours of practice that he's put in into perfecting that jump shot.

But it still comes back to the shooting. Allen has perhaps the prettiest looking jump shot I have ever seen EVER (I'll give Steve Nash second place here). He is already in the pantheon amongst some of the greatest shooters to ever play the game of basketball, but is he best pure shooter ever? Is he better than Reggie Miller, Larry Bird, Jerry West, Chris Mullin, or Steve Nash?

That is a question I will leave for you to answer. For now, I will go back to 'He Got Game' to share my favourite Ray Allen story. If you've seen the movie, you'll remember that in the climatic scene, Allen and Denzel Washington face each other for a one-on-one game to decide the film's resolution. The director decided that instead of scripting the match-up, he will just led the two play naturally and film the scene as it is. The only thing for certain was that Allen was supposed to win: how he would win was left to the actor/player.

So what happened next? Washington surprised the young Allen, scoring four early points on him. Facing potential embarrassment in losing to an actor, Ray angrily stepped his game up, killing Washington from all ends of the floor. Within minutes the game was done, and the real life/reel life confusion created for one hell of a dramatic scene.

Art can imitate life all it wants, but as long as Trey Allen is in control, you know he'll continue to script the rest of his own Hollywood story.

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