STATELINE, Nev. - Watching Ray Allen shoot jumpers is like listening to Miles Davis play jazz. Everything's as smooth as can be, seemingly effortless flicks of the wrist and textbook form producing a soft swish chorus.
You just don't expect Ray Allen to transfer that style to the golf course. This isn't his game, after all. And when you think of NBA All-Stars picking up golf, your mind can't help flashing the ugly image of Charles Barkley's swing.
But the 6-foot-5 Allen at least looks good when he golfs. His shots may not always be at his command, but his style is.
Barkley looks like he picked out his golf clothes from a Sears catalog. Michael Jordan, as is his wont image-wise, goes traditional conservative.
Ray Allen? He looks he stepped from the pages of an out-there GQ spread, all pastels and sharp colors found only in the biggest Crayola boxes.
David Stern could never pull off these looks, but he'd love the dress code.
It catches some of Allen's hardcore fans off guard though. Allen had a near band following him at the Super Bowl of celebrity golf tournaments in Lake Tahoe. Many of them were decked out in NBA jerseys, baggy shorts and gold chains - even though it was pretty clear they came straight from the suburbs.
"That's Ray Allen?" a few asked each other. "In the checkered pants?"
Then again, Allen's always easily moved between worlds. Even before he established himself among the NBA's best he co-starred in Spike Lee's He Got Game, a rookie actor holding his own with Denzel Washington. He put up with Jim Calhoun's screaming at Connecticut, George Karl's grousing in Milwaukee and Nate McMillan's splitting on him in Seattle.
Allen signed an $85 million five-year contract with the SuperSonics before the 2005-06 season, but he wasn't blinging on the party scene in Tahoe. While other stars took the casino stages and danced with twentysomethings, he played at the regular tables. His entourage consisted of a couple of even more unassuming guys.
Smooth can come in different dimensions.
Q: How competitive do you get on the golf course?
A: Golf is more of a gentleman's sport. You're telling guys, "Good shot" - guys you're competing against. You want good things to happen to the guys you're golfing with. In basketball, guys I'm playing against, I want them to go 0-for-whatever for that game.
Q: What got you into golf?
A: People think golf's boring. But you're trying to compete against yourself. To get the ball in the hole. It's strategy. It's figuring out the best plan with your game. You have your game. Your partner has their game. There's so many different ways you can go about it.
It's almost like if you stand in a hallway with an overhang and tell your buddies, "How much do you bet that I can touch that?" And then you say, "Well, I've got this high." And then everybody's jumping. Well, that's all golf is. You bet that you can get in there in four strokes and some other guy thinks it's going to take you five. It's a test against yourself.
Q: It seems like golf is getting more popular with NBA players. You've got [Nets point guard] Jason Kidd, who's played for a while. [76ers forward Chris] Webber's played for a while. Of course, Michael Jordan. Have you noticed a shift in that golf is more accepted in the league?
A: No, it's still not that popular. A lot of guys still look down on it. I've been playing golf with Jason Kidd for a long time and it goes back to when we'd play till the sun goes down. I've played with Webber, some of the older guys in the league.
But guys in the NBA who are younger - and the league's gotten a lot younger - haven't had the exposure to the game.
Q: Do you try and introduce that younger generation to the game?
A: I do. Especially some of my teammates. I have tournaments. Have them come out and just talk about the game. But some of them have ambitions off the court that have nothing to do with golf and it's hard for them to get into it.
Just getting introduced to golf can be an evolution in their own lives, though. It's something they never thought they'd find themselves doing from where they grew up.
Q: You've been a college All-American at UConn, scored 45 points in a playoff game against the Kings, played Jesus Shuttlesworth in a Spike Lee movie. Could winning a celebrity golf tournament rank with all that?
A: Oh yeah. It would be an individual accomplishment. To win puts you in a special category. To know that's something you pulled off outside your own sport.
Q: Who's the best NBA golfer?
A: I couldn't make that distinction. I haven't played with everybody who golfs in the league. There are lot of guys who've been playing golf their whole lives.
Q: Is it more intense when you're golfing with Jason Kidd or one of the other guys you know from the league as opposed to one of these celebrities from another field?
A: It gets more intense because you know each other's games. You can't fake handicaps. You can't fake what your skill level is. You know what the other guy has. And some of these other guys in the celebrity tournament are just quiet and respectful. We'll talk a little trash when we're playing with ourselves.
I play a combat style of golf where you talk trash against the guys you're playing against. I don't want the ball to go in. I want it to lip out for the guy I'm competing against. We're a little ruthless.
Q: You play in a sport where 20,000 people are screaming at you, waving things to distract you during the most crucial moments of a game. What do you think of golfers' insistence that everything needs to be perfectly quiet?
A: I'd rather have it where guys were yelling at me while I was swinging. It's a little too quiet for me out there. I want the negativity. I feed off that. After you've been golfing for a while, you understand why golf has that quiet, that it's part of the tradition of the game. But I'd still rather have some noise out there.
Q: The NBA's made a big push to change its image in the last year - [Commissioner] David Stern put in that dress code, guys are at least acting like they're pumped about playing for USA Basketball. Have you noticed a shift in the league?
A: The young guys still have to remember what it's about. That it's a team game and that one or two good games doesn't mean you've established yourself as a star in the league. As long as they keep working hard, the league will be all right.
Q: Denzel Washington likes to brag that he has plenty of game on the basketball court. True?
A: I'm better at golf than Denzel is at basketball. Much better. We can clear that up right now.
March 6, 2007