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On Ray Allen and the unforgiving legacy of betrayal

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Miami Heat v Boston Celtics Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Here we are again. With Ray Allen’s induction into the Hall of Fame last night, his Celtics’ career and the pain of his subsequent departure from Boston to the rival Miami Heat are yet again revisited like a scab being picked at before it’s fully healed. On a day when the basketball world recognizes Allen’s contribution to the sport as one of the best shooters of all time, we’re reminded that even greatness can be scrutinized or torn apart.

On Friday’s episode of The Jump, Paul Pierce addressed the relationship (or lack there of) that Allen has with his former teammates and whether or not time truly heals all wounds:

Here’s a phrase you hear all the time when something disagreeable in sports happens: it’s a business. The longer I’ve been a fan, that sentiment has grown more true and more true. Especially now, when what happens off the floor and in the front office are just as important and entertaining as what happens on the floor, dollars start to make sense. But when you’re a kid, you don’t think about the salary cap and TV money and the bottom line. You watch every game like it’s life or death. You cry when your favorite player gets traded or retires. You’re not rooting for Microsoft or Elon Musk to make a big move to raise their stock. You’re hoping that The Captain hits a fifteen footer to win Game 7 of a playoff series.

I’m at the age now where I’m older than my idols were when I was 7. I grew up watching Larry Bird and Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. It’s weird to think that every future Celtic will now be younger than me. I’ll be cheering for kids for the rest of my life. But even in my 30’s, part of my childhood perspective about sports lived in how I rooted for Paul Pierce and later Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Sure, I was more savvy about how much of the Celtics’ future Ainge had to mortgage to put together the Big Three, but there was still a glimmer of innocence when it came down to why I follow sports.

Bush Meets Boston Celtics At White House Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

That championship team embodied everything that I love about the Celtics. Banner 17 represented Ubuntu, team work, family, and sacrifice. That might be pollyanna to say and more so to believe in when it comes to professional sports, but those values have always been echoed by all the teams that I’ve rooted for.

When Ray Allen left in 2012, it felt personal to me. The Celtics had just lost a grueling seven-game Eastern Conference Finals to the Heat. It was a proud stand by an undermanned group of veterans and to some extent, a truer representation of that Celtic mystique. Four years prior, they raised a championship trophy over their heads, but they were a team that had been so quickly thrown together. The final year of the Big Three now had history and a bond and brotherhood that had been tested by injury and a Finals loss to the Lakers.

So when Allen left, it felt like betrayal. Allen has since tried to litigate his free agency decision. He talks about how he took less money in Miami and that the Celtics and Heat weren’t really rivals. While that may all be true, what Allen has failed to realize all these years later is that every in every sports fan is the heart of a kid rooting for his idol and his team.

Part of me understands why Ray left. He had feuded with Rajon Rondo and felt like Boston didn’t respect him. He wanted to be happy and chose to join a team that would make two Finals trips in his final two years in the NBA. But Ray also has to understand that as fans, we want to be happy to. Maybe those are unfair expectations to put on somebody else, but it’s why guys like KG and Dave Cowens are beloved in Boston. We want our teams to stick together and to stick up for each other.