I was born a year before Ray Allen was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks. I was 6 when the Bucks lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2001 NBA Eastern Conference finals. While Chicago wanted to be like Mike, up north we all wanted to be like Ray. I was in middle school when Allen won his first championship in Boston and I was in high school when he won his second ring with the Miami Heat. Until the last two years, during which Allen was a free agent, there had not been an NBA season in my lifetime of which he had not been a part. Now, with last week’s announcement of his official retirement, it feels like the closing of a chapter of my NBA fandom.
Allen’s announcement came in the form of a letter to his 13-year-old self. He describes the loneliness he has felt and the difficulties of growing up in a military family. He speaks of the hard work and hours of practice he has put in, starting at a young age, to be one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. And in the middle of the letter, he tells himself this: “Listen: God doesn’t care whether or not you make your next jump shot. God will give you a lot of things in life, but he’s not going to give you your jump shot. Only hard work will do that.”
I hate to disagree with my childhood idol, but Ray, your jumper is God-given. This is not because God sprinkled you with some special power, like a Space Jam magic trick. It is because God gave you everything, both your unique athletic talent and your work ethic.
In James 1:17 we’re told, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Ray Allen’s jump shot came from his work ethic, but his work ethic came from God.
Ray Allen’s jump shot came from his work ethic, but his work ethic came from God.
God is sovereign over all we do. He is sovereign over an office on the top floor of the Empire State Building and he is sovereign over a dusty gym on the United States Air Force base in Dalzell, S.C. God loves all people and all of his creation. He wants to see us succeed in all we do. John Piper has written, “What defines us as Christians is not most profoundly that we have come to know him, but that he took note of us and made us his own.”
One of the most memorable Ray Allen moments was “the shot.” This was during game six of the 2013 NBA Finals when the Miami Heat were playing the San Antonio Spurs. With five seconds left in the game, Allen hits a three to send the game into overtime and eventually save the series for the Heat, leading to their second straight NBA championship. I was a Heat hater when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh decided to team up in South Beach, but once Allen signed, I wanted them to win it all. I needed to see my favorite player get another ring. He was one of the oldest players on the Heat’s roster that year, but he didn’t let that stop him from saving their season. After making “the shot,” he gives a quick fist pump and then gets back on defense because he knows the game is not over.
Allen currently holds the record for most three-point field goals made in an NBA career, but he was so much more than just a shooter. His unfathomable work ethic is why I will always love him and why he has impacted every place he has played, especially my home city of Milwaukee. He might say that his jump shot is not God-given, but his work ethic sure is. God’s blessings and gifts look different in every person’s life. It may be the grit required to be an NBA Hall of Famer or it may be the patience to be a stay-at-home mother or father. God is our sovereign Father, on the NBA court and beyond.