MIAMI – If anyone on the Miami Heat roster knows what to expect at the Bradley Center for Games 3 and 4 against of their first round playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks it’s Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen.
They’ve got intimate knowledge of the place, both of having been in the building when it’s an emotional power keg, when the hometown fans are cranked up and caught up in the atmosphere of a big game.
They’ll be on the other side this time, though, wearing the wrong colored jerseys for Game 3 Thursday night (7 ET, TNT). But that doesn’t change the fact that these games serve as a homecoming of sorts for these Heat stars whose careers took off in “Brew City.”
Wade came to town as an unheralded Marquette recruit and left a lottery pick, beloved by the locals as the star who helped restore a once proud program to national prominence. His college jersey hangs in the rafters of the arena, one of the retired numbers of the greats to have called the city home at some point.
Allen’s future Hall of Fame career started in Milwaukee, he played the first six and a half seasons of his career with the Bucks, helped them to the Eastern Conference finals in 2001 and earned three trips to the All-Star game as a Buck before being traded to Seattle in February of 2003.
“I went to Milwaukee with not a lot of expectations and I came out of Milwaukee the fifth pick of the Draft,” Wade said. “Milwaukee has been special to me. It has helped me get to this point. Going back there in the playoffs is a cool thing. It’s very humbling (having his jersey retired). Every time I look up there, I think about how far I have come. It’s special to be able to play in an arena where your jersey hangs.”
As it should be, right up until game time, when the Heat hit the floor in those dark, road jerseys and try to push the Bucks one step closer to their season’s end. That’s when the fans he and Allen are so familiar with will shed whatever positive vibes they have and try to handle their business.
“They’re going to come out and play with emotion,” Wade said. “I’ve been in Milwaukee when they’ve had playoff teams. I know that place can get very loud. It’s going to be emotional for them. They’re going to give us their best shots. We have to be able to withstand them and still be there late in the game and have a chance to win.”
Allen has played 10 seasons since he left Milwaukee, made seven All-Star teams since his departure, won a championship in Boston (2007-08), experiencing the highest of highs and the lowest of lows on his journey. But he’ll always be a part of one of the best Bucks teams of the past two decades.
Those 2000-01 Bucks were one win away from making it to The Finals. Allen, Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell were the Brew City Big 3 long before Allen joined forces in Boston with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
That Bucks team was broken up a year and a half later, having struggled to regain the form that saw them among the Eastern Conference elite. Allen, the scapegoat for many at the time, Flip Murray, Kevin Ollie and a 2003 first-round Draft pick (that became Luke Ridnour) were sent to Seattle for Hall of Famer Gary Payton and Desmond Mason. Allen took the blow in stride, using it as motivation throughout the following decade of a magnificent career.
“That trade hardened me,” Allen said. “It taught me a lesson about the business of basketball and showed me at a pretty early stage in my career that I had to always be on my guard. It made me a better player because it taught me that you’ve got to have a work ethic and think things through and not take anything for granted.”
Since leaving Milwaukee, Allen has become the standard-bearer in the league for professionalism. His dedication to his craft is unmatched, prompting Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to offer up his own nickname for the man whose Heat teammates refer to as “Jesus” and “Shuttlesworth” for his star turn in Spike Lee‘s hoops classic “He Got Game.”
“You have a guy who is absolutely diligent and dedicated to his craft,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We have a lot of professionals that are very committed. But to see a guy who has a routine that no matter what, rain, shine, injury, flu, who will always be there, is a great example. I call him ‘Every Day Ray,’ for that reason. It’s every single day. Not every other day. Not when I feel like it. It’s not on days when I only have my health. It’s Every Day Ray. Every single day on the road he will be there on the early bus. We had to create that early bus. We didn’t have that before Ray. We remember that in Boston, when he was going through major ankle problems and they were trying to convince him out of that to get him some rest. Every Day Ray, he will be there. Every Day Ray is right there. That shot does not happen by accident.”
Allen is already the NBA’s all-time career leader in 3-pointers made during the regular season. His 317 career playoff 3-pointers is just three shy of Reggie Miller‘s NBA record of 320.
The idea of him catching and perhaps passing Miller while in Milwaukee, where he knocked down the first 107 of those career playoff 3-pointers, makes the return very, as Wade put it, special.
Special indeed for at least two members of the Heat traveling party.