It came while going through footage of the Celtics’ charitable endeavors for a project. While all of the players appear to do a good job reaching out to the needy and adoring youth, one guy always stands out. And something dawned on me, to the point that I paused.
Ray Allen gets it.
The secret is he never just goes through the motions. Let’s take Paul Pierce’s celebrity bowling event. Allen showed up with his own ball, shoes and glove. Then, there was the team’s charity golf outing. While many of the C’s joyfully hacked and shanked, Allen brought his own laser rangefinder thing and gave caddy-like measurements and advice to the weekend warriors comprising his foursome. He even accounted for wind and temperature.
He goes all out — with everything. It’s why he shoots until paint chips off the practice rim. It’s how he mastered the science and art of the free throw. It’s how he eclipsed 20,000 career points last week.
“At the end of the day, we want to be able to say we played as hard as we could,” Allen said during the golf outing. “That we didn’t leave anything on the table. So in the future, we could just cherish these great moments.”
This Thanksgiving, Allen gave 275 needy families complete dinners, with fixings, at the Shelburne Community Center in Roxbury, Mass. He greeted every individual personally. When one young boy said he could eat all the whipped cream on hand, Allen warned the overindulgence would cause a stomachache, school absence and bad grades.
He gets into this stuff.
Or, if you prefer, he gets it.
As fans, whether we realize it or not, we crave a type of behavior almost as much as we crave wins. We want our sports heroes to act a certain way — the way we think we would act if we were in their spikes/skates/high tops. It’s why we prefer “acting like you’ve been there before” over the touchdown dance. It’s why we salute digging in the corners and diving for loose balls. We want them to be us — plus size and talent — and we would give everything.
Conversely, we’re disgusted when we perceive an athlete wasting his gifts and status. It doesn’t really matter if there’s a back story or an underlying struggle. We see suspensions and slips and stupidity in the same light as burning a winning scratch ticket.
Really, it’s unfair. We’re all different, from remarkably varied backgrounds, and who knows how we would act if thousands cheered, booed and critiqued our every move? But it’s our nature. We have an image of how we would act, and we want to see it.
And so I give you Ray Allen.
“When you sign a contract, it’s not just to be a great player on the floor,” he said during an interview at the Thanksgiving giveaway. “It’s to become a part of the community. An organization is signing you to a contract because they want you to be an ambassador to the city.”
Right here, in our midst, we have an athlete to admire, a guy who apparently fits this near impossible portrait. And that does the heart good. Just in time for the holidays.