Ray Allen may be an NBA veteran, but he was only 13 years old when Jerry Sloan became the coach of the Utah Jazz. Back then, Allen had little idea that he would become an NBA great, let alone that 22-and-a-half years later, he and Sloan would share top billing on a historic day in the National Basketball Association.
Records are made to be broken, as the saying goes. With that said, the truly great individual NBA records are rarely surpassed, but that's what Allen did tonight in breaking Reggie Miller’s three-point record.
Yet, in a strange twist of fate, the day Allen wrote his name into NBA history will also be remembered as the day the NBA’s longest-serving coach left his job.
At the beginning of the day, NBA newsreels were focused on the evening matchup between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, last season's NBA finalists. Games between the Celtics and Lakers are always high-profile, but with the Celtics' recent victory in Los Angeles there was slightly more edge to this meeting of two teams who could well meet each other again in this year’s Finals.
Adding even more hype to the encounter was the fact that Allen was one shy of matching Miller’s regular season three-point record. While everyone in the Boston camp, Allen included, would have maintained that the only thing that mattered against the Lakers was a victory that would keep the Celtics atop the Eastern Conference standings, the potential for no. 20 to break the record added even more spice.
Then the news wires became abuzz with one story alone: Jerry Sloan was set to resign from his position as head coach of the Utah Jazz.
Rumors of discontent in the Utah camp had been rife for a few days, particularly regarding the strained relationship between Sloan and star point guard Deron Williams. Still, despite the Jazz' current run of 10 losses in 14 games, every team has its ups and downs, and with Utah sitting comfortably in Western Conference playoff position this latest episode would surely blow over.
Except it didn’t.
Early in the afternoon, news broke that Sloan actually had resigned, drawing the curtain on the longest coaching tenure in the history of the NBA.
Simply put, Jerry Sloan is a legend. He may never have won an NBA championship (the closest he came being trips to the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals, both of which brought defeat to the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls) but his achievements are unquestionably impressive.
Sloan led his Utah Jazz to the playoffs his first 15 seasons in charge, and 19 of 22 overall. As well as those two NBA Finals trips, Sloan led the team to four Conference Finals and five Conference Semifinals.
Sloan achieved the magical 50-win mark in half his 22 seasons in charge. Overall, his 1,190 regular season victories as coach of the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls leave him fourth on the all-time list, while his 1,096 victories with the Jazz are a record for regular season victories with a single team.
It's a mark that is unlikely to ever be broken.
Respect for Sloan throughout the league is unquestioned, with superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Tracy McGrady all taking to Twitter within hours of Sloan’s resignation to praise both his coaching abilities and his achievements in the NBA.
The affection for the coach amongst his own staff was marked by the decision of assistant coach Phil Johnson to resign alongside Sloan. Fellow assistant Tyrone Corbin, chosen to step up as Sloan’s replacement, described his feelings for Sloan and Johnson in affectionate terms: "While it's a great opportunity for me, it's a bitter moment for me because I will miss these guys a lot."
While the attentions of many shifted to Sloan’s resignation, over in Boston two teams took the court to renew a famous rivalry.
The Celtics started in impressive fashion, led by a strong early showing from Allen. When the Boston shooting guard nailed a three midway through the first quarter to draw level with Miller’s total, the anticipation amongst the home crowd was palpable.
When Allen made his second from beyond the arc soon after, the TD Garden crowd went into raptures. Allen spent the final minute of the period receiving a standing ovation, as well as the congratulations of teammates and even opponent Kobe Bryant.
At quarter’s end, he was afforded the opportunity to break from the team huddle to share hugs with his mother, his wife and, with Reggie Miller himself in attendance calling the game on TNT, the man he had just surpassed.
Allen’s achievement has been years in coming. For the past few seasons he's been hunting down the seemingly unassailable mark of 2,560 three-pointers made by Miller, and tonight he finally surpassed it.
The man with arguably the smoothest stroke in the history of the league has now cemented his position in the record books as the greatest long-range shooter of all time. Allen's record is truly great, and unlikely to be surpassed any time soon, if at all. It's worth bearing in mind that third on the list is Jason Kidd, over 800 makes behind Allen and Miller.
Over 15 seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle Supersonics and Celtics, Allen has been a picture of consistency and longevity, playing at least 78 regular season games in eight of his 14 seasons and averaging just shy of 40 percent from three-point range over his career.
Rather than dropping a level this season at age 35, Allen has rolled back the years alongside his fellow Celtics veterans, averaging 36 minutes a game and shooting a career-high 46 percent from beyond the arc. Allen signed a new two-year deal last summer, but based on this season he may have even more in the tank and could spend the next few years extending his new record to a truly unbeatable mark.
It’s difficult to say whose record is less likely to be reached, with Sloan’s achievements equally impressive. 22 years and two months of unbroken service as head coach of the Jazz is simply remarkable, and a quick look around the rest of the league helps to illustrate the sheer magnitude of that achievement.
Over the 22 years of Sloan’s tenure, every other NBA team has changed their head coach at least three times, with the Los Angeles Clippers "leading" the way with an astonishing 13 coaching changes over that time.
Well, it would be astonishing were it anyone but the Clippers.
The simple fact that 27 of the NBA’s 30 teams have made at least six coaching changes during Sloan’s time in Utah shows just how extraordinary his record is, particularly in an age of knee-jerk reactions and impatient fanbases.
Back in Boston, despite Allen’s best efforts as his team’s leading scorer, the Celtics fell to the Lakers 92-86. The looks of frustration on the faces of Allen and his teammates as they left the court serve as a reminder that the only records that really matter in the NBA are found in the win and loss columns.
Still, in time Allen will look back on this night as a special one in his own career, and one that he can cherish from a personal perspective.
For NBA fans, February 10th, 2011 will go down as a truly momentous day in the history of this great league, a day made special by two men of differing backgrounds, differing generations and differing achievements, but united by their love of a game they have helped to make so special.