MILWAUKEE–Ray Allen, Milwaukee Bucks guard and budding NBA superstar, is drawing raves on and off the court, hailed by admirers as "not an asshole" and "a reasonably decent human being."
The recipient of the NBA's inaugural Magic Johnson Ideal Player Award, Allen was praised by Bucks coach George Karl as "a true standout individual, the kind of person who treats others with a basic level of respect."
"Ray Allen is a great player, but he's an even greater person," said Karl, who is accustomed to reporters asking him about Allen's normalcy. "I remember this one time during his rookie season, he was walking back to his car from practice, and a woman nearby slipped on a patch of ice and fell. He could have kept walking, but instead he asked the woman if she was okay. Right then and there, I knew this kid was something special."
Allen, 25, who came to the NBA from the University of Connecticut in 1996, is among the NBA's best at shooting three-pointers, defending the perimeter, and going home quietly after games. A hardworking athlete, Allen has raised eyebrows around the league by never going AWOL or skipping practice.
"I knew when he came into this league that he had the potential to be a standout player," said Sports Illustrated basketball writer Marty Burns. "He had a reputation as a guy who would not only hit the clutch shot down the stretch, but also make eye contact with the towel boy. He has the potential to be a decent human being in this league for another 10 or 15 years if he stays healthy."
"I'll never forget what he said to me before the first interview I did with him," Burns said. "He said, 'Hello, Mr. Burns.' Then he extended his hand for me to, you know, shake. That's just the type of guy he is."
Allen's remarkable normal-human-being behavior carries over into his personal life. Though unmarried, he spends a respectable amount of time with his 8-year old daughter and is rumored to be on good terms with the girl's mother. He is also said to be close with his own mother.
Such decency has not gone unnoticed: Never accused of sexual assault, Allen has earned high praise for his lack of hostility toward women.
"When he was in college, Ray voluntarily went to several UConn women's basketball games and has been quoted as saying that he'd play for a female coach," Bucks public-relations director Cheri Hanson said. "Ray Allen isn't merely in the top 1 percent of NBA players; he's in the 51st percentile of human beings."
In addition to being a media darling, Allen's civility makes him a fan favorite. Though many pro athletes are abusive toward their supporters, Allen has, on numerous occasions, praised a home crowd as "good" or "great." Last week, after a tough home playoff loss to the Charlotte Hornets, he smiled and signed three or four autographs in the Bradley Center parking lot.
"That's unbelievable," said Karl, whom Allen has never threatened physically. "To come off a tough loss like that in the Eastern Conference semifinals and still be willing to interact with people, you just don't see that sort of thing very often."
"Acting reasonably nice, exhibiting basic common decency, having a general awareness of other people's feelings... that's what sets Ray Allen apart from your run-of-the-mill NBA player," said ESPN's Dan Patrick, who called his November 2000 interview with Allen "possibly the most civil" of his career. "Here I am, an interviewer asking him questions, and instead of taking a swing at me or showering me with verbal abuse, he politely responds to my queries. He didn't have to, but he did."
Continued Patrick: "It's nice to know that in this day and age, there are still athletes out there who say 'thank you' when you give them a new car for making the all-star team."