Yesterday I caught some excerpts from Ray Allen’s introductory press conference down in Miami, which somehow went on without the use of pyrotechnics, dry ice, or predictions about winning 8 championships. Though Allen did his best to stick to standard boilerplate talk about how he’s “excited” to be on the Heat while also being a Celtic “forever”—having his cake and eating it, too— it was pretty clear that Allen made his move because he was an unhappy camper all season and he simply didn’t feel he was wanted by the Celtics as much as he was wanted by Pat Riley and Co. And therefore he was willing to leave a lot of money on the table—willing to pay millions of dollars, essentially—for the privilege of playing with the likely 2012 champions.
And really, isn’t that the appropriate way to look at it? If your current, slightly-inferior team is offering you $18 million (maybe more, if rumors are true), but you go with the reigning champs who are offering $9 million, you are effectively paying $9 million to play with the cool kids. Granted, many sports fans would love it if more free agents didn’t go to the highest bidder. (How great would it have been if Johnny Damon had stayed in Boston instead of taking the extra $12 million to join the Yankees?) So shouldn’t it be kind of cool that Ray Allen is doing just that? In theory, yes. But it isn’t cool. As with LeBron James’ “Decision” two summers ago, Allen’s choice actually looks rather weak because his desire to hop on the S.S. LeBron and cruise to another championship ring is no less grotesque than selling himself to the highest bidder, especially because he’s already won a championship. (This isn’t Ray Bourque going to the Avalanche out of sheer desperation, or Steve Nash going to the Lakers for one last crack at winning it all.) If you sell yourself to the most loaded bidder instead of the highest bidder, you are still a mercenary. You are taking the path of least resistance toward another championship instead of taking the path of greatest financial gain. And that’s why we will view other remoras who flock to the Heat during the LeBron era—including über-bust Rashard Lewis, who’s joining old buddy Ray down in South Beach—as mercenaries seeking instant gratification at half price. And it’s why that internet meme about how Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan didn’t need to join up to win NBA titles will remain such a biting criticism of the James-Wade model.
Meanwhile, Kevin Garnett somehow felt compelled to stay in Boston, despite being in the same situation as Ray and having similar options for how and where to end his career. Perhaps KG never felt slighted or betrayed the way Ray did, or perhaps KG is just anomalous in that “loyalty” is something he still believes in and still wants NBA fans to believe in. When Ray was speaking so gratefully and wistfully about the TD Garden fans chanting “Let’s go Celtics” at the end of their dismal Game 6 performance, I couldn’t help but wonder if he already regrets leaving those fans and hammering another cynical nail in the coffin of pro-sports loyalty.
When the Celtics play the Heat next season, I’ll be looking for Ray’s face (probably on the bench) in the first and fourth quarters of his games at the American Airlines Arena, when half the seats are empty because Miami fans can only take about 35 minutes of basketball before their eyelids start to droop and they need more Botox.
Meanwhile, here’s what Rashard Lewis had to say during his introduction:
“You’ve got to double-team LeBron. You have to double-team Dwyane Wade. You’ve got to double-team Chris Bosh. And then you think they’re going to leaveRay Allen open?” Lewis said [...]. ”They’ve got to leave somebody open. So I have to go [shoot] a million jumpers tonight and be ready to knock them down. Somebody’s got to be open.”
Yay! Open jumpers because nobody’s bothering to guard me! Sounds like the heart of a champion to me.