I met Ray just after his rookie season at a Nike Hoop Camp in Barcelona in 1997. As a young journalist for the largest German basketball magazine I got to interview both him and Kobe Bryant in the same summer just weeks apart from each other. Kobe was visiting Paris. Ray was in Barcelona. So I went. Kobe first, Ray second. No preference. That’s just how the schedule worked out.
Now this may all sound like it was a routine gig for me but I remember I was really nervous. After all, these two were my first field assignments. I had telephone interviews with NBA players before, but this was my first real sit-down. That Kobe session went well. I mean, interviewing an 18-year old, skinny kid who really didn’t do much in his first season was not hard. And although I did ask about the airballs in Utah, Kobe was very open and relaxed during the interview. Even outright friendly. Ray Allen was not. Now 20 years later, I think I know why.
But first, I want to tell you about the interview which to this day I consider one of the worst I ever had.
Interviews are usually just as different from each other as the people you ask the questions. No two are completely alike. For example you can have funny interviews where it’s hard to stay professional (Dirk), boring interviews where it seems the guy just gives you the same soundbite over and over again (MJ), interesting interviews that are more like conversations which go way beyond basketball (Kobe), professional interviews that don’t even reveal one tiny bit of someone’s soul (Harden) and then there are interviews where you get the strong impression that the person doesn’t even want to be interviewed. That was Ray Allen.
Not only did the (then) Bucks-rookie give short one-sentence answers to my questions without any facial expressions whatsoever, he also kept staring at my notes as if he was counting down the questions until he could get out of there. I mean, “How do you like the camp here in Barcelona” might not be the most interesting question of all time but surely you can give a better answer than “It’s great” followed by silence. During the whole session he seemed guarded, unwilling to show one single piece of emotion, staring at me like that would make time go faster. Granted, that was my one and only interview with Ray Allen and maybe I just caught him on a bad day. But after reading his incredibly personal “Letter to my younger self” which he posted on the Players Tribune shortly after announcing his retirement, that terrible interview in 1997 and the emotional distance he put between me and him on that day made a lot more sense.
In said letter – which you should really read if you haven’t already – Ray talks about having a hard time making friends because he never quite fit in anywhere. As a military kid he constantly had to start life all over again when his Dad got stationed to another Air Force Base.
“It’s the same routine once every three years or so. New school, new culture, new faces. Northern California. Then Germany. Then Oklahoma. Then England. Then Southern California. And now, Dalzell, South Carolina. You’re used to being the kid that nobody knows.” – Ray Allen
So he closed himself off. Basketball was his only friend. Ultimately that’s what made him so good. Repetition and hard work. As a 13-year old kid Ray Allen spent more time on basketball courts than some professionals today. He played with grown-ups because kids “were mean”. And he built up a wall that nothing which did not have the shape of a basketball could penetrate. I believe I crashed into that wall.
“Most people will never know the real you. But they’ll know your work.” – Ray Allen
You are right, Ray. Your work will never be forgotten. You will go down as one of the best shooters of all time. Sorry, I misjudged you.