Miami Heat v Charlotte Bobcats - Game Four

Miami Heat guard Ray Allen is currently playing in his 18th season at the age of 38. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The legend of Ray Allen began at the University of Connecticut, where he was an All-American in the mid-1990s. As his pro career began, he earned critical acclaim as an actor playing the role of player Jesus Shuttlesworth alongside Denzel Washington in the 1998 Spike Lee film, “He Got Game.” Allen’s lore grew as an All-Star with the Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle SuperSonics and then in Boston with the Celtics, where he won his first NBA title in 2008. In 2011, he became the league’s all-time leader in made 3-pointers. That would have been enough for most players in their mid-30s. But there was another chapter to be written here in Miami. Allen’s 3-pointer with five seconds left in Game 6 of last year’s Finals against the Spurs brought the Heat back from the dead and on to another title, while instantly becoming one of the game’s most memorable moments.

If that weren’t enough, the 18-year veteran is at it again, continuing to play big minutes for head coach Erik Spoelstra on the league’s grandest stage this year. “We anticipated that he would be a big weapon for us in the fourth quarter because of, again, his DNA,” Spoelstra said. “He has that gene that he shows up big in the biggest moments.” As Allen’s teammate Shane Battier succinctly said, “Ray is a freak of nature.” Battier is just 35, but this season will be his last as a player. He’s retiring after the Finals. He says that playing late into your 30s in the NBA is all about conditioning and discipline. “Guys who have played and have been productive over a long period of time have taken the science of nutrition and physiology and applied it,” he said. “It takes amazing dedication. I don’t have the dedication. I drink way too much Bud Light. That’s probably why I’m on my way out.”

The Spurs have an ageless wonder of their own in 38-year-old Tim Duncan. San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich says it takes a special kind of athlete to stay so effective so late into an NBA career. “The guys that are playing well, the Tim Duncans, Ray Allens and so forth, just look at them at as individuals, how they take care of themselves [in the] offseason, what they put in their bodies.” Popovich said. “Their mental toughness, their professional attitudes. You know, all those qualities are the same in all those kind of guys.” As for Allen himself, he says staying in tip-top shape at an advanced NBA age has become a challenge. “I will tell you one thing, it hasn’t been easy,” Allen said. “I’ve had a great time thus far, but it’s like anything. You have to work it. It’s a daily grind.” While most players relish their late 30s as a chance to attack the banquet table, Allen says a major part of that daily grind simply involves diet.
“You have be in better shape than everybody else because you lose it quicker.”
– Ray Allen, Heat guard
“You think you’ve afforded yourself that ability, but you actually have to eat less and eat healthier,” he said. “So, you have to find ways to always stay on top of what you’re doing. You can’t get out of shape in offseason. You have to work doubly as hard as everybody else at conditioning. You have be in better shape than everybody else because you lose it quicker.” Allen, who will be 39 next month, is the third oldest active player in the league, behind only the Lakers’ 40-year-old Steve Nash, and the Bulls’ Mike James, who will be 39 later this month. As for when the decision comes to call it a career, Allen says only one part of his body counts. “The physiological aspect of everybody’s body is so different,” he said. “Everybody comes to that feeling at different times in their life and their career. So, I don’t know. And you know, one thing is for certain that I always know, is that when I decide, it’ll be a mental decision, and it won’t be physical where I say, you know, I’m just beat up.” But for now, the legend of Ray Allen continues to grow.