Ray Allen feels your pain, disenchanted NBA fans. The Milwaukee Bucks' All-Star shooting guard has heard your complaints. Whether or not you're being narrow-minded, he knows that you feel little or no connection to many of today's new-jack players, and he's here to help. Because if you can't relate to him, it's hopeless. You'll never love this game again.
For starters, just look at him. He's an unimposing 6'5" and 205 pounds with none of those totems that so many of you find so off-putting: no tattoos, no cornrows, none of that anvil-sized jewelry. He's strikingly handsome, he has a million-dollar smile, and with no slang in his lexicon, he speaks in the soothing voice of a pilot pointing out sites of interest below. The worst curse word you'll hear him use is durn, which he picked up only since moving to the Midwest five years ago.
You like golf? Allen has a 10 handicap and will gladly tick off his favorite courses across the country. Want to talk art? Funny, Allen does too. He counts among his legion of friends Milwaukee gallery owner Michael Lord, who has lent Allen works by Miro and Chagall and recently sold him a Warhol lithograph. Last weekend Allen had a wooden sculpture delivered to his sprawling home in suburban Mequon, Wis., to see if it "resonated" (his word) with him. He plays the piano, just finished reading Chicken Soup for the Soul and gets gooey when he talks about his eight-year-old daughter, Tierra, who lives with her mother in Connecticut.
Allen also has a sharp wit that would make him a hit at any cocktail party. Last week, for instance, he laughed after hearing the story of Bucks coach George Karl, who had intended to send a Valentine's Day bouquet to his girlfriend, only to learn that it was mistakenly delivered to his ex-wife. "Man, that one will go down in history," Allen said. "Or should I say her-story?"
What's that? You're one of those fans who doesn't mind NBA players in the mold of Allen Iverson? You're partial to stars with flavor, players who embrace hip-hop culture? No problem, the 25-year-old Allen can accommodate you, too. He knows Jay-Z's lyrics as well as any of his teammates do, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a player who donates more time and money to inner-city causes. "Ray's definitely one of the guys," says Milwaukee point guard Sam Cassell. "He has a lot of things going on, but he's not green at all. He's cool. Real cool."
Allen, however, is not merely a modern-day Zelig, endowed with an uncanny ability to insert himself seamlessly into any social situation. He got game, too. A member of the Dream Team in Sydney and the past two Eastern Conference All-Star teams, Allen plays with a smoothness and efficiency that make everything he does on the court look effortless. He's also durable: Through Sunday he had played in each of Milwaukee's 346 games since joining the team out of Connecticut as the fifth pick in the 1996 draft. (Along with a future first-rounder, Allen's draft rights were acquired from the Minnesota Timber-wolves for the rights to the Bucks' choice at No. 4, Stephon Marbury.)
With a blinding first step and hops worthy of Milwaukee's finest brewery, he's among the league's most explosive players. His skill at dropping in floaters and finger rolls makes him more dangerous still. Give him a step and, with the most elegant of strokes, he'll bury a medium-range jumper. Give him two steps and he'll hit the three-pointer, as he did on All-Star weekend when he sank 33 of 50 attempts to win the Long Distance Shootout. "Ray's got that smooth flow," says Bucks forward Glenn Robinson, a fellow All-Star. "He's the most natural player I've played with."
Thanks in large part to Allen, the Bucks were atop the Central Division at week's end, with a 30-20 record. Allen was averaging 21.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game while shooting 46.0% from the field, 41.8% from behind the arc and 89.6% from the free throw line. Though Milwaukee lost 103-93 at home to the Charlotte Hornets last Saturday, the game featured vintage Allen. In 41 minutes he scored 30 points on all manner of drives, catch-and-shoot jumpers and three-pointers. "He has great range, but he can also penetrate," says Hornets coach Paul Silas. "When you use that combination effectively, the way Ray does, you're impossible to defend."
Hard as it is for defenders to get a hand on Allen, it may be more difficult to get a handle on him. It's not that he's elusive or shy—in fact, as far as star athletes go, he is uncommonly engaging and personable. It's that his enthusiasms and experiences are so disparate and often incongruous that no coherent profile emerges.
Allen admits his interests are all over the map, but he figures it's because that's where he spent his childhood. Ray's father, Walter, was a mechanic for the Air Force, and the family moved from base to base with the frequency of Bedouins. Before Ray's three seasons at UConn—he had a 3.6 GPA and majored in communication sciences—he had lived in Merced, Calif.; Ramstein, Germany; Altus, Okla.; Suffolk, England; Rosamond, Calif.; and rural Dalzell, S.C., where he graduated from Hillcrest High. "We're like, 'Where are you from, Ray?' " says Cassell. "He doesn't know how to answer."