Plan Your Future
Ray Allen reflects on his path to NBA success
"To achieve your dreams, you will become a different kind of person."
When you get off the school bus tomorrow, you're going to be in a whole new world. This is nothing new. Every time your father gets stationed at a new Air Force base, you've had to say goodbye to your friends and start a new life. About once every three years, it's been the same routine. New school, new culture, new faces.
Northern California. Then Germany. Then Oklahoma. Then England. Then Southern California.
And now, Dalzell, South Carolina.
You're used to being the kid that nobody knows. The majority of your existence has been about trying to find new friends, trying to show people that you're a good person and that you mean no harm. You're used to being an outsider.
You've gotten pretty good at it.
This time is different though. It's the middle of the school year. Everybody already knows one another. You're at a critical age, and kids are just … mean.
You've grown up in a military household your whole life. Your friends were all from military families. You walked around the neighborhood with your ID hanging around your neck like a dog tag in case some unfamiliar MPs rolled by. You spent your formative elementary school years in Britain. You don't even realize it, but to some people, you speak very proper.
When you step off that bus in South Carolina and open your mouth, those kids and going to look at you like you're an alien.
"You talk like a white boy," they'll say.
You'll think to yourself, I don't understand. Who am I supposed to be?
I'm going to be 100 percent honest with you. I wish I could tell you that it's going to get easier, and that you're going to blend in, and that it's going to be alright. But you're not going to fit in with the white kids, or the black kids … or the nerds … or even the jocks.
You'll be the enemy to a lot of people simply because you're not from around here.
This will be both the toughest and the best thing that will ever happen to you.
What I want you to do is this: Go to the basketball court. Stay at the basketball court. You can build your entire existence there.
The world is much bigger than Dalzell, South Carolina. If you stick to the plan, you'll see. Remember that when you're lying in bed on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and you hear the engine of your father's old Transvan start up outside.
You know that sound. It's not pretty.
All you'll want to do is sleep, but grab your sneakers and run down those stairs, because he will leave you. You have exactly two minutes until the heat kicks on in the van and he's backing out of the driveway. He's on military time, and if you don't get to the court at 0900 on the dot to put your name at the top of that sign-up sheet, you're going to be waiting around all day to get a run in.
You'll learn a lot on that court. As a 13-year-old kid playing against grown men, you'll learn to play in transition out of necessity. You'll play so fast that all the soldiers will start calling you "Showtime" when you walk into the gym.
In between games, when you're on the sidelines, I want you to listen very carefully to all the stories these soldiers tell.
You're going to hear a lot of "Man, I coulda …" on these courts.
Don't ever put yourself in the position to wish you could hop in a time machine, Ray.
When you start getting attention from colleges, some of your own teammates will tell you things like, "College? You'll sit on the bench for four years."
Just because you don't drink, they'll say, "Man, you're gonna be an alcoholic once you get to college. You won't be ready. All they do is drink there."
A lot of people don't want to see you succeed. Don't get into fistfights with these kids. Trust me, it will accomplish nothing.
Instead, remember exactly who said those things.
Remember how they said it.
Remember their faces.
Keep these voices inside your head and use them as fuel every single day when you wake up.
And the voices telling you you're the man? Those are the voices to keep out. As you go through high school and you start getting some national attention, you'll hear things like, "Ray's jumpshot is God-given."
Listen: God doesn't care whether 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 jumpshot. Only hard work will do that.
Don't be so naive as to think you're ready for showtime.
Young fella, you're not ready.
In high school, you might think you understand what it takes to be a great basketball player, but you will truly have no idea. When you get to the University of Connecticut, your head coach will show you what hard work really is.
His name is Jim Calhoun. Don't get on this man's bad side.
When you walk into the gym for that first practice, get ready for hell on wheels. You're going to be all excited to get in your Huskies gear and start shooting around. But then coach Calhoun is going to flip the script.
"Freshmen!" he'll say. "You think you deserve to wear this uniform? You don't deserve the privilege. Not yet."
Then the assistant coaches will start handing out plain grey shorts and t-shirts to all the freshmen.
"I want to see some sweat," coach will say.
This man is going to damn near break you, but he's going to make you a much better player and person. This will be your introduction to what it really takes to be great.
A few days later, you're going to have one of the most memorable moments of your life. You're going to wake up at 5:30 a.m.and go the weight room and get your workout in, and then you'll come back to the dorm and shower before class.
You'll put on a shirt and tie, throw your backpack over your shoulder and walk across campus to your first class.
It's early, so it's still quiet. The leaves are crunching under your feet. You're sore, but your clothes are on point. You got your work in. You're prepared. You have a purpose.
I don't know what it is about this moment in particular, but as you're walking, you'll think, Wow. I'm a college student. No matter what happens at the end of this tunnel, I'm going to make my family proud.
When you get to your public speaking class and sit down, this girl will turn to you and say, "Hey, why are you so dressed up?"
You'll say, "Because I can."
In that moment, it will feel like you conquered the world.
I could end this letter right here, and you would still probably be excited about what you will accomplish in life. But you still have an 18-year NBA career ahead of you.
How do I sum up nearly two decades in the NBA? What do you really need to know? What's truly important?
You'll get to guard your heroes: Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler.
You'll play alongside Hall of Famers: Kevin Garnett. Paul Pierce. LeBron James. Dwyane Wade.
Sometimes you'll be afraid.
Sometimes you'll think you're out of your league.
But you'll keep showing up every day, putting in the work.
You'll put up more than 20,000 shots in your career. Six out of 10 won't even go in. I told you this game tough.
Don't worry, though. A successful man is built of 1,000 failures. Or in your case, 12,000 misses.
You'll win a title in Boston, and Miami.
I know you want me to let you in on some big secret to success in the NBA.
The secret is there is no secret.
It's just boring old habits.
If I'm being real with you, what you'll realize after you win the first title is that the thrill is fleeting. The vindication is fleeting. If you only chase that high, you're going to end up very depressed.
The championships are almost secondary to the feeling you'll get from waking up every morning and putting in the work. The championship is like you sitting in class at UConn with your shirt and tie on, because you can.
Your winding path to that moment, just like your walk across campus on that quiet fall morning in Connecticut, will be where you find happiness.
I really mean it from the bottom of my heart: Life is about the journey, not the destination.
In order to achieve your dreams, you will become a different kind of person. This will come at a heavy price to some of your friends and family.
Most nights, you won't go out. Your friends will ask why. You won't drink alcohol, ever. People will look at you funny. When you get to the NBA, you won't always play cards with the boys. Some people will assume you're not being a good teammate. You'll even have to put your family on the backburner for your job.
Most of the time, you will be alone.
That won't make you the most popular person. Some people simply won't understand. Is the cost worth it?
Only you can answer that.
Who am I supposed to be?
Tomorrow when you get off that bus school bus in South Carolina, you have to choose.
Every day for the rest of your life, you'll have to choose.
Do you want to fit in, or do you want to embark on the lonely pursuit of greatness?
I write this to you today as a 41-year-old man who is retiring from the game. I write to you as a man who is completely at peace with it.
The hell you experience when you get off that bus is temporary. Basketball will take you far away from that schoolyard. You will become far more than just a basketball player. You'll get to act in movies. You'll travel the world. You will become a husband, and a father of five amazing children.
Now, the most important question in your life will not be, "Who am I supposed to be?" or even "What do I have to do to win another championship?"
It will be, "Daddy, guess what happened in math class today?"
That's the reward that awaits you at the end of your journey.
Go to the court. Stay at the court.
Get your work in, young fella.
Most people will never really get to know the real you. But they'll know the work.
This is an edited version of Ray Allen's letter. Read the full version at The Players' Tribune.