SAN ANTONIO – Ray Allen is about to make you feel weak and undisciplined.
At least, he’s going to have that effect on the 82.7 percent of the population who give in to one vice or another, this temptation or that, and prefer their gratifications instant rather than deferred.
Allen, the Hall of Fame-bound NBA shooting guard best known recently for his championship-altering 3-pointer for the Miami Heat in Game 6 of last year’s Finals, didn’t end up in that right corner that night by happenstance. He did so through a strict regimen, an extreme diet and his famously obsessive-compulsive work ethic in preparing, via time and repetition, for every shooting situation he might face on a basketball court.
As his 39th birthday (July 20) creeps ever closer, Allen talked of the focus and will he’s needed to get to this point, to be a valuable, dangerous member of the two-time defending champions’ attack and to have stuck around long enough to hear people crack wise about his age.
“It’s always funny, because being my age and playing this game, so many people always make it seem like a bad thing, y’know?” Allen said, speaking to a cluster of reporters and cameras on the eve of the 2014 Finals. “You hear comments – my teammates, we laugh and joke about it. And then people post [on social media] talking about how old I am. It doesn’t bother me because I appreciate it. It’s more, for me, a celebration than it is a curse that people try to make me feel I’m not supposed to be here.”
Allen is gaunt, built more like a marathon runner, the luxuries of catered charter flights and a lavish road per-diem seemingly lost on him. He is listed as 6-foot-5, 205 pounds but he is 10 pounds lighter than that after opting for a gluten-free Paleo diet last summer. He looks leaner now than when he was picked No. 5 out of Connecticut in the 1996 Draft.
At an age when many hubbies get a little chubby, in a culture where NBA ballers post photos of their favorite chicken-and-waffles platters around the league, Allen is able to keep his eye on loftier goals. In other words, he’s really annoying, y’know?
“My ability to take care of myself, to have eaten the right foods over the course of my career – [that is] something my coach in college, Coach [Jim] Calhoun, always instilled in me,” Allen said. “Got ridiculed, I remember, by a friend of mine when I stopped eating fried chicken when I was in my early years in the NBA. He couldn’t believe it. He thought I was an impostor. He said, ‘I can’t believe you stopped eating fried chicken!’ I was like, ‘I just had to – it’s just the evolution of me as a person and my character. I want to play for a long time.’ “
People sometimes don’t like it if they perceive a friend to be changing. Some don’t like it when it reminds them of their own bad habits or struggles with discipline. But Allen says it’s all a matter of priorities.
“I think that’s what it’s all about, being an athlete and you want to do great things with your life and your career and with your sport,” he said. “The ones that have made it, that have won championships, that have done great things individually, everybody will say the same thing: That they had to sacrifice something. And it’s not an easy thing to do. You sacrifice something, you alienate something or somebody. We’ve all done it and people have been mad at us. But you only know what your vision is and what you want to accomplish in your life. At the end of the day, when you hoist a trophy or you win a scoring title, whatever it may be, you always tell yourself that it’s worth it. Because this is what you set out in your career to do.”
Allen said he could relate to San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, the second-oldest player in this Finals (Duncan, 38, is nine months younger). At the unofficial “media day” Wednesday, the first question to Duncan was about his eventual retirement. (His answer: “It will happen when it happens. I’ll feel it and I’ll know it and I’ll call it a day.”)
“I certainly know how he feels and what he goes through,” Allen said. “People – if they’ve never been through it – they don’t understand it. … Your coaches and your teammates, those are the ones you hope understand and appreciate what you go through.
“Tim has to be that guy that he was when he first came in. And if he can’t be, then we’re no good to our teammates out there on the floor.”