June 18, 2008: In our May 2008 feature on Celtics guard Ray Allen, the seven-time NBA All-Star talked about the pressure to stay strong during the rigorous NBA season.
In Game 6 all his hard work paid off, as Allen sunk 26 points, tying a Finals record with seven three pointers, en route to his first championship. Here’s another look at how he got there.
Guess which of the Celtics’ trio may be the “fittest”? Wrong. That would be sharpshooting guard Ray Allen. With an old-school work ethic, the All-Star employs a diverse workout strategy that just may earn him a championship ring.
Four pounds. Four measly pounds. For Ray Allen, a seven-time NBA All-Star and sharpshooting guard, the weight felt like an anchor each time he drove to the hoop and tried to explode at the rim, each time he chased an opponent from one side of the floor to the other, each time he weaved and bobbed through screens in an effort to elude a defender.
A pound or four doesn’t matter to most of us. But to Allen, a veteran who had already defied the standards for athletic longevity, the extra ounces felt like another teammate hugging his midsection. “People always say, you don’t need to lose weight, you look good, you look in shape,” Allen says. “But when you’re running up and down the floor and have to run from one sideline to the other, stop on a dime, and shoot a jumper or get to the hole and explode, you really feel the weight that shouldn’t be on you.”
That was two years ago, when Allen decided to lose his extra weight. The results today are obvious. At 32 years old, Allen is enjoying a renaissance as one-third of Boston’s new Big Three, joining Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce as the core of the Boston Celtics’ sudden revival. One season after losing a near-franchise-high 49 games (and enduring an 18-game losing streak), the Cs may now be the NBA’s best team not named the Los Angeles Lakers. Playing unselfishly on offense and stifling defense, Boston surged to the league’s best earlyseason record and established itself as a favorite to reach the NBA Finals.
While much of the credit for the resurgence has been laid at the arrival of 11-time All-Star Kevin Garnett from Minnesota in an off-season blockbuster trade, and Pierce’s revival and influence, Allen, who arrived in a draft-day trade with Seattle, has contributed his share. He’s averaging nearly 20 points per game and offering more-than-solid numbers in field-goal shooting, rebounds, and assists. Even so, the Cs vowed since the start of the season that this year isn’t about individual glory. “It’s not a stat-sheet season for us,” Allen says. “We came together and said, ‘Look, we’re not going to average 28 or 30 points. We just have to do things to make the team better, and when we win, we’ll celebrate winning.”
The key to making that happen is all about fitness, especially for Allen-a workout warrior and nutrition fanatic who spends his time off doing things like biking 30 miles through the Seattle hills, just for fun. “As far as dedication to his body-stretching, massage, working out, all that stuff-as long as I’ve been in the league, Ray’s the best I’ve ever seen,” says teammate Brian Scalabrine. “He just does what needs to be done.”
For Allen, whose pregame meal always consists of chicken and rice, that means maintaining 4% body fat, and working out year-round, including during the season when most players are simply trying to survive the debilitating 82-game schedule. To put it bluntly, he simply will not allow those four pounds to return.
Maybe that dedication is the reason why the 6’5″ Allen’s pro career, which began in 1996, has lasted so long. Most players can’t survive the rigors of the NBA for more than a decade, overcoming numerous injuries like the double-heel surgery that sidelined him for 26 games in ’06, without doing everything they can to maintain their bodies. But Allen has learned enough lessons over the years to ultimately become his own trainer. “I witnessed Michael Jordan talk about the need to stay strong over 82 games,” Allen says. “You have to take your hits and be able to absorb them -not only so you don’t get hurt, but so you don’t feel beat down the next day.”
Four years ago, Allen stopped losing weight after each season, as he had done in his youth, and began gaining those four pounds and 1.5% of body fat. “What that showed me was my playing weight versus my living weight,” he says. So he dropped playing basketball in the off-season and focused on maintaining cardio while limiting wear and tear on his aging frame. Biking became his new “game,” with running as a complement. Allen lived outside Seattle, in Snoqualmie Ridge at the foot of the Cascades. He limited his running to a pair of two-and-a-half-mile treks a week. The other three days he embarked on brutal 30-mile rides through hills and valleys near his home. “It was gruesome,” he said. “Those hills were tough. But when you were done, the feeling was great.”
In addition to limiting the pounding on his tendinitis-scarred knees, the jaunts also provided Allen with valuable time to unwind. “It was beautiful,” Allen says. “The trees, riding down thesecluded streets, the countryside. You see farm animals, the mountains in the background, rivers running through. And it just gave you peace of mind. When it’s just you and that bike, and you’re 15 miles from home, you’ve got to put your head down and work. You start thinking about things you need to do in your life, goals you have. It’s great mental therapy.” Cardio was only half of the new regimen. Allen built his strength work around what he considers basketball’s two most important muscle groups: the abs and glutes.
He labels one- and two-legged squats his “best exercises,” with six-pack-producing crunches not far behind. “Squats are a way of letting me know where my power is,” he says. “When I have my butt low and parallel to the ground, that’s the single most important position in basketball. Everything you do starts there. If a dog’s chasing you, that’s the first position you get into. So you’ve got to be able to explode.”
In the weight room, Allen starts with 135-pound squats, progressing to 225 during the season and 315 in the off-season. He follows with a circuit of leg curls and extensions, keeping the weight below 70 pounds. For upper body work, he benches 135, occasionally pushing to 185. He adds dumbbell curl to presses of 35 pounds on each arm. Between each exercise, Allen does 20 pushups and 20 crunches. He scoffs at guys who grunt through 200 of each. “If you’re doing 200 crunches, you’re doing them wrong,” he says. “You want to do the least amount in the most efficient way. Be very specific in the areas you’re trying to hit and train those muscles to keep them strong.”
The less-is-more approach derives from college, when he lifted like a football player before realizing he needed to tailor his workouts to flexibility, stamina, explosiveness- and the core. “When someone pushes you-and people don’t realize this—your abs are the first thing to kick in,” he says. “So if you’re weak right there, you’ll fall over for anything, especially while you’re running up and down the floor.”
“I keep my body strong so it doesn’t break down,” Allen says, “as opposed to putting on muscle every single day.” He has imparted these lessons to young teammates like point guard Rajon Rondo and center Kendrick Perkins. “I just always tell them to be in better shape than the guy you’re playing against,” Allen says. “I tell Perkins, all you have to do is beat your man down the floor, outrun him, and he’s going to get tiredand you’re going to get six to eight points a game just from being in better shape.”
Thanks to Allen, basketball is back on the map in Boston. Beantown’s new trio of stars evoke memories of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish, Hall of Famers who keyed three titles in the 1980s. With none of them having won an NBA title, they’d like nothing more than to hang a 17th championship banner alongside those won by previous Celtics greats from Bob Cousy to Bill Russell to John Havlicek to Bird.
As they prepare to seek that goal (the NBA playoffs tip off in April), they seem to each be having the time of their basketball lives. “When you’re on a successful team winning championships, it’s not a stressful lifestyle,” Allen says. “It’s easier to play basketball, enjoy your teammates, and have a good time. You don’t get that everywhere, so you shouldn’t take it for granted when you do.”