The exchange, or lack thereof, that took place between Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett on Tuesday night has been a hot topic as we open the packaging on a new NBA season.
In case you missed it, the pregame exchange has been a hit on YouTube in the hours since it occurred. We knew the first game of the 2012-13 season would be eventful with the defending-champion Heat hosting the rival Celtics on the night they received their rings, but it garnered more headlines for damaged off-court relationships than the 48 minutes of basketball that was played.
The big storyline heading into the game was the debut of Allen in a Miami uniform. The NBA, never one to forgo a marquee, money-earning matchup, pitted the Heat against the Celtics. Allen’s decision to leave Boston for South Beach only added to the drama.
One could have easily assumed that Garnett would hold a grudge against Allen, not only for leaving the Celtics as a free agent but for joining the hated Heat as well. Last month, Garnett made it clear at the team’s practice facility that he no longer had any sort of relationship with his former teammate. I stood no more than six feet from Garnett when he gritted his teeth and continued to seethe about Allen and the decision he made.
In general, you fall into one of two camps. Either you blame Allen for taking less money and security to sign with the Heat (like 99.9% of New England), or you fault Garnett for not showing some understanding and sportsmanship towards a player he went to battle with for five years.
A case can be made for either side.
The popular belief is that Allen left the Celtics because he was upset over a series of events, beginning with a few failed trades, continuing with a reduced role (Avery Bradley stealing minutes) and ending with Danny Ainge prioritizing Garnett over him this past offseason. All of those things happened and it’s not surprising that Allen would hold a grudge against the organization for what he perceived as poor treatment. He, just like 80% of the guys he has ever played with, have had their egos stroked since they entered high school (some earlier). This is a culture we have created.
The issue I have with the shifting opinion of Allen is that not long ago he was considered the model of professionalism. He is being criticized for taking less money for a similar, or even smaller, role with the Heat. What would have been said if he left the Celtics and took more money in doing so? Allen would be less of a prima dona and more of a greedy money-hoarder. You don’t have to agree, but it’s the truth. There was no right way for Allen to leave the team in the eye of Boston fans and many within the organization – especially if he was going to do so in favor of the Heat. When they won a title together in 2008, Allen, Garnett and Paul Pierce were all supposed to hang it up in Green.
Those that support Garnett in this conflict have a point as well. Garnett feels betrayed by Allen, who is just 10 months older. They are members of the NBA’s old superstar regime and in joining the Heat, Allen aligned himself with the new school (LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh). As a very intense, fiercely competitive player, Garnett has always had issues with LeBron, the leader of the “new” wave. Pouting over a reduced role was strike one. Leaving was strike two. Joining LeBron and the Heat was strike three.
My issue is that Garnett isn’t a one-franchise guy. He is seen as a Celtic because he moved into a bigger market and won a championship, but like Allen he came to Boston from a non-contender. There is little loyalty in the NBA these days and Allen can’t be faulted for choosing what he viewed as a better chance at another title. Plain and simple, Garnett acted like a child. It has been nearly four months since Allen put pen to paper in Miami.
Garnett receiving praise for ignoring Allen as a sign of his allegiance to the Celtics and winning is my issue with the situation. He doesn’t care anymore about winning than any other player simply because he ignored Allen’s pregame acknowledgement. Allen isn’t going to concede a loss just because he looked professional (whether he did so to look good or not) before the game. He wants to win too.
You can be ruthless, supremely competitive and professional at the same time. Anyone that points a finger at what Garnett did and says “That’s just because he cares more about winning than anyone else” is mistaken.
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the first time that Garnett’s professionalism has come into question. Just a few months ago, he and Rajon Rondo walked off the court in Miami after a Game 7 loss without acknowledging any members of the Heat. Allen, Pierce and Rivers had the professionalism and respect to congratulate LeBron and Co. … and they aren’t any less competitive.