The three-point shot. A thing of beauty. A second's worth of time where the entire arena watches the orange Spalding as it floats towards the hoop. As with all sports, the game's elite make it look deceptively easy. The elite of the elite do, anyway. For the majority of the NBA, making three out of ten shots from beyond the arc would put them in the specialist category, meanwhile for the rest of the world, just catching the rim on one occasion would be enough to make you look like you know what you're doing. An incredibly difficult skill, and one especially difficult to master, perfect and keep going for years on end.
But when Ray Allen took the pass from Rajon Rondo in acres of space against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, February 10th, everything seemed to fit. "It seemed like it was slow motion for me," said Allen in the postgame press conference, after breaking the all-time record for three-point shots made, with 2,561. "The minute we got the stop and Rondo got the ball, in my mind it was like, 'it's started', and I said to myself, 'this is it'. And then when Rondo took the ball up, I knew what he was thinking, we've seen it a thousand times, I know he knows where I am. So when I got the ball and let it go, I felt so good behind it, I knew it was good, I was like, 'This is money'."
It sure was, and as soon as the ball hit the net, the home crowd went bonkers. One more play was completed before a time out was taken, with the crowd still in raptures. Kobe Bryant, arguably the greatest player in the game today, gave Allen a fist bump, clearly recognising and acknowledging the enormity of the achievement. As Allen moved back towards the bench for the time out, he was hugged, high-fived and hand-shaken by every member of the Celtics' roster, coaching staff and backroom staff.
The PA announcer then whipped the crowd up by confirming what everyone knew, that Allen had broken Reggie Miller's record of all-time three-point shots. Miller was in the stadium commentating for ESPN, and Allen immediately went over to him, gave him a hug and exchanged a few words. He then moved on to his mum, who is an ever present at the Celtics' home games, and the rest of his family.
Miller was keen to point out Allen's qualities, not just on the court, but off the court in the community as well. "People come up to me and say: 'You've gotta be a little upset or bitter.' - Why? First of all, all records are made to be broken, but I'm just so happy for him because this is one of the best guys - he's so humble, he's so giving, he's a great family man, and I'm excited."
In relation to his selfless side, Allen is a leading ambassador of the NBA Cares scheme, which promotes basketball in the community for under-privileged children. Regarding his on-court success, Celtics' coach Doc Rivers has no doubt why Allen has been as successful as he has. "It's no coincidence why Ray Allen's a great shooter - he works on his shooting. Ray Allen takes more shots than anybody I've ever seen. So, it's a great example of a guy not resting on his greatness." Team mate and Celtic legend Paul Pierce agreed: "Ray's been doing that his whole career, and that's what's gonna make him a future Hall of Famer, and one of the greatest players that's ever gonna play this game."
Allen hit the record-breaking three in his 1,074th game, 315 less than Miller's total of 1,389 games. While that sounds impressive, remarkably, the two of them put up almost exactly the same amount of shots - 6,430 for Allen as opposed to 6,486 by Miller, giving Allen a success rate of 39.8%, fractionally better than Miller's 39.5%. To put Allen and Miller's totals in perpective, current Dallas Mavericks star Jason Kidd sits third on the list, with 1,762 three-point shots made - a whopping 800 fewer than both above him.
To become a master of any subject, sporting or otherwise, dedication is key. In addition to being one the fittest members of the team, Allen also arrives at the court, home or away, three-and-a-half hours prior to tip-off, and puts up shot after shot after shot. Malcolm Gladwell said in his book Outliers, to become an expert in any given field you need to practice for 10,000 hours. Allen could well have surpassed that amount purely in pre-game warming up, never mind actual training sessions on off-days and the matches themselves.
The amount of shots he must have put up is almost incomprehensible. In his 15th season, he's approaching 1,100 regular season games, plus 101 play-off games, shooting up to 300 shots in preparation for each one, plus the shots in those games, plus the shots he's taken in practice sessions, plus the shots he put up in all his years growing up before he came into the league. I couldn't even begin to estimate a number. One thing I can tell you, though, is that with Allen's work ethic and love of the game still solidly intact, even at 35, he'll be around the league for a good season or four yet.
With the game becoming more and more physical; more emphasis on defence and players being able to shoot through contact, Allen is a throwback. A shooter in its purest form. Just catch and shoot. All day long. With the league's best passer at his side, and Miller's mark of 2,560 now successfully leapfrogged, who can say where Ray's treys will end? Widely considered to be in his best season ever, Allen could have surpassed 3000 threes by the time he hangs up his stroke.