What would Jesus do: Perfect Form

 

What indeed would Jesus do?

Jesus Shuttlesworth, that is. That’s the name of the character Ray Allen plays in the Spike Lee movie, “He Got Game.” It’s a compelling film, especially since the protagonist is played by a basketball player, not an actor. (Those with small hoop-crazed children might wait before ordering — it’s rated R.)

It tells the story of a young basketball player, Shuttlesworth, growing up on his own after his father (played by Denzel Washington) was imprisoned for killing his wife, Jesus’ mother. Jesus is the best high school basketball player in the land and must negotiate the cut-throat world of big-time college recruiting on his own.

The freedom of his dad, Jake, is contingent upon Jesus’ signing to play for the prison warden’s alma mater. Everybody wants something from Jesus.

In 1998 when “He Got Game” was filmed, Ray Allen was 22 years old, a second-year player in the NBA (he had hair then!), after leading the University of Connecticut for three years. He was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round (4th player overall) in 1996.

Ray Allen is my favorite Boston athlete and I admire him with an appreciation not felt since Nomah was holding forth at shotstawp for the Sawx a decade ago.

When my son Peter fell in love with basketball in the 7th grade, I took him out to the hoop in the driveway and tried to teach him how to shoot a basketball with one hand, not two. I found a photograph in the Boston Globeof Ray Allen taking a jump shot and taped it to the refrigerator, where it remains: “Shoot like that,” I said. “Perfect form.”

Ray Allen, it seems to me, has perfect form in a lot of ways. In their NBA preview issue this fall, Sports Illustratedfocused on Allen when they evaluated the Celtics, describing his steadfast work habits and attention to detail. He adheres to a punishing workout schedule: “If you want to be great,” he says, “you need to be in great condition.” Allen is 6-foot-5, 205 pounds, and has a 29-inch waist.

Like the sainted Larry Bird, Allen is one of the great shooters of the ball in NBA history, yes, because he has marvelous innate talent, but also because he is so dedicated to practicing and perfecting this skill. Doc Rivers, the Celtics coach, was quoted in the SIarticle saying, “Every morning you come in the gym before practice and Ray’s been out there shooting for an hour. And you turn to your coaches and say, ‘I wonder why he’s a good shooter?”

Ray Allen is 35 years old, geriatric by NBA standards, yet he still runs the floor feverishly and hustles to get open for the long-distance shot at which he is so proficient. On offense, in the forecourt, he moves to get open like Bill Bradley in his prime, or later, Reggie Miller, whose three-point-shooting record Ray will break at some point this winter (as of Wednesday, he was just 63 short, 2,497 to 2,560).

With just a little room, he launches a long three, and swish, nuthin’ but net, beautiful. Then he retreats impassively to the defensive end and picks up a tough opponent, many years his junior, and stifles him. He’s a throwback in some ways, playing with a Jerry West cool.

Over his 15 year career, Allen has been consistent and durable, only missing five games in the last two years, averaging some 36 minutes a game for the Celtics. He has played in more than 1,000 NBA games, scored more than 21,000 points, averaging 20.4 points a game in his career. He’s one of the game’s great foul shooters, shooting nearly 90 percent for his career and breaking the Celtics’ record for consecutive free throws with 72 last year (besting Bird who hit 71 in a row).

He is a good teammate, even though his borderline OCD behavior alternately entertains his teammates and drives them to distraction. Do not mess with Ray’s precise pregame routines and rituals. He has won the NBA Sportsmanship Award and has three times been voted the Sporting News“Good Guy.”

Off the court, Ray is the Celtics Renaissance man, a genuine culture maven. He can often be seen about town attending events to benefit charities and the arts. He collects art, he plays the piano, he reads, he doesn’t drink alcohol. He is reputedly the Celtics’ tour guide to cultural high spots when the team is on the road.

Some of this interest in the world outside sports undoubtedly comes from his peripatetic childhood. Raised in a military family, he was born at Castle Air Force Base in California and lived on military bases in England, Oklahoma, back in California, and Germany before landing in South Carolina, where he led his high school team to a state championship.

In a professional sports world sometimes short on positive models, Ray Allen stands out. As my own kids embrace sports and the world, they could do worse than ask:

What would Ray Allen do? 


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