BOSTON — Ray Allen made an appearance at the Wilbur Theater this week to discuss and promote his new book, "From the Outside: My Journey through Life and the Game I Love," written with Michael Arkush. While the questions generally centered on the highs and lows — and ultimately, the end — of his five-year run with the Celtics, NBA fans who read the book will be well-reminded of Allen’s best days in Milwaukee.
As well as one of the most controversial: Game 7 of the 2001 Eastern Conference finals against the 76ers. Fans of that era surely remember the whispers, shouts and conspiracy theories that sprung up around the 2003 Lakers-Kings series in the West, but that Bucks-Sixers series was every bit as heated. Milwaukee was whistled for 12 technical fouls to just three for the Sixers, and the Bucks were called for five flagrant fouls to zero for the Sixers.
At the time, Allen — who averaged 27.1 points and shot 50.9 percent from the 3-point line in the series — openly suggested that the fix was in for Allen Iverson and Philly. Seventeen years later, he still questions it.
“I don’t know if they were manipulating it, it just seemed like it was not going to go in our favor,” Allen told Sporting News. “It’s hard to understand now, it was so far in the past, what the tone was. But they had the Sixth Man of the Year (Aaron McKie), they had the MVP (Iverson), they had the Defensive Player of the Year (Dikembe Mutombo).
“We were the lowly Milwaukee Bucks. Small market, everyone always was talking about ratings, the ones we did not draw that much of.”
The play that drew the most controversy was the flagrant foul called on Scott Williams, the Bucks’ starting center. The NBA suspended Williams for Game 7, though he had not been ejected at the time the call was made.
“Just the fact that Scott Williams was suspended for Game 7, you suspend one of our crucial players for a deciding game that would send us to the NBA Finals?” Allen said. “That, to me, is beyond me. How do you tamper with a game that much? People around the world and in the NBA wanted to see AI-Kobe. That was the sentiment.
“But let us decide it, let us duke it out. It was a hard play, he elbowed him, but it wasn’t anything worth suspending him the next game.”
That team, Central Division champs at 52-30, looked like it would mark the dawn of a dominant era for Milwaukee. But it all disintegrated quickly, especially when Bucks coach George Karl pushed the team to bring in big man Anthony Mason, who proved to be a disaster for team chemistry.
“The huddles were the worst,” Allen wrote. “George would be giving instructions when Anthony, I kid you not, would turn his chair to the side and look into the crowd. He didn’t listen to a word George said. I had never seen a player act like that, even in junior high.”
Still, Karl was reluctant to criticize Mason, instead saving his fire for Allen, who was easily his best player. Allen had actually gone to Washington four years earlier to convince owner Sen. Herb Kohl to hire Karl. But in the end, Karl and Allen could never really see eye-to-eye.
At one point, Karl called Allen a “Barbie doll because he wants to be pretty.” Allen remembers vividly.
“For me to wear a suit to a game, it was like it irked him,” he said. “I was trying to be too cool or too pretty for him.”
Karl’s approach was one thing that eventually doomed the Bucks, who followed their trip to the conference finals with a 41-41 nightmare.
“I think he likes the type of player who he can have confrontation with, when you have that jawing, that back and forth,” Allen said. “I was not that type of player. I speak my mind and move on, I don’t need to keep arguing about it. It was personalities, it was who we are. You learn it now, because I saw how he was in Denver and Sacramento and it was the same thing.
“Nothing changes about this league where you have great players — you have to make sure you make pacts with them to make sure they play their hardest and find a way to be part of the team.”
The following season, Milwaukee dealt away Allen, an All-Star still in his prime, to Seattle for 34-year-old Gary Payton, who left the next year as the Bucks sank to 30-52. A promising team collapsed quickly.
Now, 15 years later, Allen just hopes that the Bucks’ new ownership group will remember the lessons of players like Mason and a coach like Karl.
“That downtown should be owned by the Milwaukee Bucks,” Allen said. “When people go there, it is such a small town, but the more winning they do, the more they will own that space. The more 'Fear the Deer' you will get. They’ve got good young talent, if you can keep that talent there — I am sure my time there will be looked on as what not to do, how to not build a team.
“When you’re building your core, try to keep that talent there, because you want the community to be attached to those players. The more people know who their players are, and appreciate their players, the stronger that bond will be.”