“Everyone has a vet.” That statement from Kevin Garnett has stuck with me. Sam Mitchell was his. He was Rajon Rondo’s. It’s the circle of NBA life. You would be hard-pressed to find a player whose career was not set on its course by a veteran in his first locker room. Those who become vets themselves pass those lessons along. These are their stories.
Drafted fifth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1996 (via a draft-day deal that sent Stephon Marbury and a first-round pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves), Ray Allen played 18 NBA seasons, earning 10 All-Star bids and winning titles with the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. Famed for his obsessive work ethic, he retired in 2014 as the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals and was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year. Taking time from discussing the attributes necessary for NBA longevity at the rookie transition program this month, Allen spoke to Yahoo Sports.
Who is your vet, and how did that relationship develop?
Allen: I had Johnny Newman. We played the same position, so oftentimes I would be watching him, and he would always tell me what I need to do. He always pointed me in the right direction. Indirectly, he always carried himself the right way. He always dressed for every game — he was like immaculate. He just gave me something to aspire to be.
What on- and off-court lessons did you learn from them?
Allen: These guys were so frugal. The money wasn’t as big. Maybe one of the highest-paid players is making like $1.6 or $1.7 million, so you saw the way they carried themselves. They weren’t driving fancy cars. Everybody rented cars or had cars through a dealership. It just gave us an example. It was just a different mentality to come to Milwaukee, and it gave me a foundation.
What were your rookie duties?
Allen: Nothing too much. During training camp, we used to have to sing, and then say the prayer before every lunch and dinner that we had. [We would have to sing] just like our school’s alma mater. Honestly, I didn’t even know my alma mater, so I don’t even remember my alma mater, but yeah … [laughs].
What was your ‘Welcome to the NBA’ moment?
Allen: The second preseason game of my career. October 15, 1996. United Center. Michael Jordan. He said “welcome to the NBA” at jump ball.
What was your ‘I’m here to stay’ moment?
Allen: I never had that moment, because I always felt like I was barely treading water. That’s what made me keep working how I needed to work.
What lessons are you passing along now at the rookie transition program?
Allen: I’m just trying to reframe the narrative from just saying “hard work” to giving the kids examples, because when you say hard work to some kids, it’s a turnoff. So, I’m trying to get them to see and understand preparation and breaking it down into different segments — being on time, putting the shots up that you would be putting up in a game situation. That’s hard work, but if you can break it down and let them understand it piece by piece, then they say, “OK, I can do that.”
Ray Allen and Michael Redd played opposite each other in the 2004 NBA All-Star Game. (Getty Images)
Are there guys who you formed a bond with once you became a veteran?
Allen: Michael Redd in Milwaukee and Damien Wilkins when I was in Seattle. These two guys were second-round draft picks, and they wanted to get better. They wanted to stay around for a while, and they just asked every question they possibly could to learn and to grow.
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