Holding Court: Should the Celtics retire Ray Allen’s No. 20?

Bert A. Ramirez
Ray Allen's departure from Boston to the Heat may have left a sour taste in Celtics fans' mouths, but should his contributions to the franchise still be immortalized? Columnist Bert Ramirez addresses the issue

JESUS OR JUDAS? Some Boston fans have yet to forgive Ray Allen for leaping to the rival Heat, but there were many fond memories of Allen in a Celtics jersey. Photo by Matt Campbell/EPA

MANILA, Philippines – For a team as steeped in tradition as the Boston Celtics are, the retirement of players’ numbers has been part of the program, one of the time-honored practices that form part of the mystique and aura of the franchise.  Count it, no team in the NBA has had as many numbers retired as those by the Celtics, a testimony to the importance the franchise places on the values of loyalty, team play, unselfishness, and, of course, great performance by anyone who wears the Celtic green.

For the record, the Celtics have retired the numbers of 18 players – Robert Parish (00), Dennis Johnson (3), Bill Russell (6), JoJo White (10), Bob Cousy (14), Tom Heinsohn (15), Tom “Satch” Sanders (16), John Havlicek (17), Dave Cowens (18), Don Nelson (19), Bill Sharman (21), Frank Ramsey (23), Sam Jones (24), K.C. Jones (25), Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell (31), Kevin McHale (32), Larry Bird (33) and Reggie Lewis (35) – which is twice as many as any NBA team has, and have also done the same to founder Walter Brown (1) and long-time coach and president Arnold “Red” Auerbach (2) while hanging the nickname of another player, Jim Loscutoff (LOSCY).

The matter of retired numbers has been raised when Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who helped win the Celtics’ 17th and last NBA title in 2008, returned to Boston for the first time last January 26 since they were traded to Brooklyn last July and were feted by the Celtics and their fans in a moving reception that all but made the Nets’ 85-79 victory just an afterthought.

After all the to-do, the video tributes, the applause and the tears shed by not a few, the question was asked: Would PP’s and KG’s numbers be retired by the Celtics once they do hang up their jerseys, whether those jerseys were the Net black, or (gasp!) Celtic green? Danny Ainge, in his weekly appearance at 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher and Rich, all but assured that both No. 34 (PP’s number) and No. 5 (KG’s digit) will certainly hang at the Garden rafters.

But when Ainge was asked about the number of the third member of the latest Big Three, Ray Allen, he couldn’t make a similar assurance.  “I’m not sure yet. I don’t know the answer to that,” Ainge answered. Ainge added that ownership, and that of course is led by Celtics CEO Wyc Grousbeck, will ultimately decide on whether No. 20 would be so honored, admitting that the circumstances of Allen’s departure from Boston could work against that happening.

“I think that’s obviously somewhat of a factor. But I think time heals those hurts, and logic will take over,” Ainge said. “The question is did he play long enough and that kind of thing? There are a lot of great Celtics in history, and Ray Allen is certainly one of them. I know there will be consideration and discussion about that happening. We’ll see.”

Of course, Danny was being diplomatic. If he were given a choice, he’d probably not approve retiring No. 20, and not just for longevity and impact over a long period of time. When Allen departed for Miami back in the 2012 offseason, Ainge did everything to make Ray stay, connecting with him at the stroke of free agency and offering him $12 million for two years.

Ray Allen (far right) teamed up with Paul Pierce (left) and Kevin Garnett (center) to win the Celtics the NBA title in 2007-08. Photo by CJ Gunther/EPA

When Ray balked and leaned towards a much more modest Heat offer of $9 million over three years (that’s just exactly half the rate of his mother team’s), Danny, aware that Ray had been miffed at a number of trades Boston reportedly tried to pull off with him as bait, put in a no-trade clause to assure the veteran sharpshooter he would be secure from now on in green.

But Allen would have none of it. He was even quoted as saying the Celtics would have to offer him twice what they were offering (that would be $12 million per year) if they wanted him to stay, knowing such an amount would completely throw the Celtics’ salary-cap situation out of whack, and eventually accepted the Heat’s overture anyway. 

The move of course didn’t sit well with Celtic Nation.  It was akin to a direct betrayal, a double whammy of sorts as Allen didn’t only leave for another team but did so for what was then the Celtics’ most bitter enemy at that point.  The Heat were the LA Lakers of the East, and they just defeated Boston in a bitter seven-game series in the East finals that year for the wound to fester, and then get raked again when one of the team’s acknowledged leaders (despite his slide in play that prompted then-coach Doc Rivers to replace him in the starting lineup) decided to abandon ship.

Bill Sy, writing for CelticsBlog, then described what countless other Celtics fans felt when he said, “For me, you’ve got to consider the equity a player builds up with you and then subtract the hate you have for them after they leave and the largest margin by far is what I feel towards Ray. I was never a big fan of the Stephon Marbury signing, the Nate Robinson trade, or the Shaq retirement farewell tour he decided to spend in Boston, but those guys left their baggage at the door when they got here and for the most part, played like Celtics and left like Celtics.

RETURN TO GLORY. Boston Celtics' Ray Allen (L) drives on Los Angeles Lakers' Ronny Turiaf during the 2008 NBA Finals, which the Celtics won in six games. Photo by Larry W. Smith/EPA

With Benedict Allen, he did everything right for five seasons but in the end, he turned into a turncoat. Not only did he betray Ubuntu by demanding more touches and looks, he went from Celtic green to Miami red.  Stab me in the back, I might forgive you. Stab me in the back and twist the knife and help with LeBron James win a championship, we’ve got problems.  He went from being the consummate professional to a petty ring chaser. Others have found it in their heart to forgive Ray, but I just can’t. He’s a used car salesman to me now.”

It was actually obvious that Allen not only became a ring chaser at that point but also someone who needed to have his ego stroked. He presented a litany of woes that he supposedly went through when he was with the Celtics, including those trade attempts that was topped off by a botched deal that would have sent him to Memphis at that season’s trade deadline for O.J. Mayo, as well as his diminished role on the team when Rivers inserted Avery Bradley in the starting lineup and relegated him to the bench because of less-than-stellar play brought in part by an assortment of injuries. The reduced minutes and lack of touches became a problem for somebody perceived as a consummate professional, and even a supposed lack of effort by the entire team to ask him to stay became a disappointment.

“Two years ago when I was a free agent, the whole organization sent me a text asking me to come back,” Allen said. “This time it was a little more subdued.”

And so, should the Celtics retire No. 20? If it were up to Celtics diehards, the verdict would be a resounding no. They’d say Allen may have contributed immensely to Boston’s 2008 title but what he did and stood for particularly when he dissed the Celtics demonstrated that he was not a real Celtic, a player who should always put the interest of the team ahead of his own.  How can you retire the number of one who betrayed you, the diehards would ask.  Ray’s ego, they’d say, turned out to be bigger than his Celtic pride, and that would be anathema to what the Celtic philosophy – which covers numbers retirement – is all about. 

What rankles the same fans is that Allen can’t seem to see the light as he keeps insisting that he did nothing wrong in doing what was good for himself, and even had the temerity to compare his departure to that of Pierce and Garnett, saying there’s no difference between the circumstances of their leaving Boston.  He thus says he can’t understand why he is being treated like an outcast by the Celtics compared to Pierce and Garnett. This elicited strong words of support from current teammate LeBron James, who took to task anyone who considered that PP’s and KG’s agreeing to the trade that sent them to Brooklyn was any different from what Ray did.

Allen and James are, of course, clearly wrong in this case. The circumstances surrounding that trade as well as Allen’s decision to leave the Celtics and join the Heat have a world of difference.  The Celtics’ trade of PP and KG was a decision made with the objective of rebuilding the team into a contender, which the team obviously was not any longer, and Pierce and Garnett had to agree with the direction the team chose to take.  Even if the decision was not made without due regard to PP’s and KG’s welfare, as borne out by the consultations that were made to ensure that they were going to a situation where they could play for another title, it was obvious that both PP and KG were not fully into it but had to finally, if reluctantly, agree to go with the plan in the end if it would help (this is the operative word here) the Celtics with their rebuilding plan.  

Ray’s case, however, was a cut-and-dried choice of trying to get back for a perceived series of slights, which he culminated with that rejection of the Celtics’ much better offer for him to stay.  Now, isn’t that a slap in the Celtics’ face, and a case of spiting the team for having offended him with those trade attempts and other perceived hurts?  But a case could be made that the same thing has happened to Pierce and to Rajon Rondo themselves in the course of their Celtic careers, with both PP and RR having often been the subject of trade rumors. But the two never let that get into their heads the way Allen did, which to many Celtics faithful makes PP and RR the personification of what a true Celtic is all about.  

This is in contrast to how the same fans perceive Allen now, with some even calling him “Judas” Shuttlesworth in reference to that famous movie character Jesus Shuttlesworth he played in the hit movie “He Got Game.”  While Allen did play a productive five years with the Green, two of those years may be said to be a wash because of injuries, and though he did help Boston to Banner 17 and was spectacular in the playoffs the next year when KG got injured (remember that 51-point explosion against Chicago in the first round?), he may have lost a couple of games for the Celts in the 2010 finals alone with his poor play. 

In a 91-84 loss in Game 3 at home, for example, Ray almost set a dubious record when he missed all 13 of his field-goal attempts and finished with just two points.  In that clinching 83-79 Game 7 loss to the Lakers, he shot 3-for-14 and scored 13 points, a far cry from the 26-point performance he turned in when the Celts beat LA 131-92 to clinch the 2008 title. Had he performed slightly better, an 18th banner could be hanging at the TD Garden, and people may not even be having this discussion now.  

The bottom line then is that Allen was not great for Boston all those five years he spent with the club.  Yet, Ainge offered him a two-year extension that, had he accepted it, could have well prolonged the Big Three era by at least another year and, in effect, prevented the Celtics’ president of basketball operations from dealing PP and KG this past offseason. Allen did not, and apparently because he didn’t feel enough loyalty for the Celtics nor did he feel he owed them.  

Amidst all the lovefest that transpired on Pierce’s and Garnett’s return to Boston, one therefore gets the feeling that Ray Allen missed on the adulation that was showered his two former teammates, and all because he committed one cardinal sin in the eyes of perhaps the most loyal of NBA fans, the Celtics faithful – betrayal of the Celtic tradition. While the rewards of being faithful to this tradition are great, as Pierce and Garnett found out, the price one has to pay is inevitably and excruciatingly high, and this is perhaps just how it should be for the NBA’s most hallowed franchise. – Rappler.com

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