When retiring basketball players are asked what they'll miss most about the NBA, an incredible percentage single out the camaraderie. There's a buzz that comes with being part of a healthy, successful team that can't be easily replicated in other walks of life. Bonds are formed and strengthened. The weight of failure is shared. The fellowship that comes in striving for a common goal, day-in and day-out, against public criticism and self-doubt is an appreciably unique experience. Whether in the smallest moments in the locker room or in hoisting up a championship trophy, there's something particular to the culture of a functional team that players latch on to.
It's telling in how often players talk of brotherhood, as those who play together for years on end so often end up as more than mere coworkers. Such was thought to be the case with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen -- teammates of five seasons in Boston and leaders of a championship team in 2008. Pierce and Garnett are teammates still, though both moved to Brooklyn as a result of a trade, but their relationship with Allen has grown cold since the esteemed sharpshooter opted to sign with Miami as a free agent in 2012.
Pierce, for his part, said that he was “very surprised” that Allen left and that the decision “definitely hurts,” saying in April 2013 that he still wasn’t ready to talk to Allen about it. Garnett made it clear at Celtics Media Day immediately following Allen's departure that he had no intention to reach out to his former teammate. That silence, according to Allen, has lasted to this day. From Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun Sentinel:
Ray Allen won a title with Garnett and Pierce in Boston in 2008. But when he went down the Celtics bench before his first game with the Heat against them last season, Garnett famously refused to shake hands or even look at him.
"No," Allen says when asked if he's talked with Garnett over the last two years.
Has he tried?
"No, no," he says.
Allen seems to think how this sounds, because he is a basketball gentleman in the way Garnett is only a basketball warrior. "When I came here, everyone welcomed me immediately as part of the team, as one of their brothers," he said. "That's been my only focus since."
It was natural for Garnett and Pierce to feel somewhat betrayed by the departure of a player they had called their brother, especially after he chose to sign with the hated Heat. Yet one would imagine that the sting of Allen's choice might fade with time, especially now that Garnett and Pierce themselves are no longer Celtics. Garnett, in particular, had the ability to finish his career in Boston by way of the no-trade clause built into his contract. Instead, he and Pierce jumped to a preferable situation in a way not unlike Allen.
That the relationship between Garnett and Allen remains so icy is a shame given all that those two players accomplished together. Their Celtics teams revolutionized the way that the modern NBA defends on a team level and the way general managers go about building their rosters; if nothing else, those Celtics were among the great teams of their era and functionally important to the development of the league. That might not mean much to Garnett and Allen, though their shared experience should. They were brothers, once. For all that went into those five years of persistently high-level play, should that brotherhood really be so easily discarded?