Movie Role Still Overshadows Allen
Miami — Ray Allen hears it every day.
By every day, he really means it.
Not one 24-hour period goes by without someone referring to him as “Jesus Shuttlesworth,” the movie character that still outshines his basketball career. The nickname was fitting considering he answered his teammates’ prayers by making a 3-pointer in the closing seconds Tuesday that helped the Miami Heat force tonight ’s Game 7 against the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.
As expected, the credit for saving the Heat was given to the player who signed with the fictional Big State University in He Got Game. Not Ray Allen.
“I’m fine with it,” Allen said after yesterday’s media availability. “Everyone calls me Jesus. It’s expected. I’m pretty much used to it.”
The nickname was mentioned repeatedly after he sank arguably the most important shot in Heat history, especially if they ultimately win a second straight championship. Allen sent Game 6 into overtime by hitting an off-balanced 3-pointer in the corner with 5.2 seconds left. The Heat eventually won, with Allen making two free throws in the extra period to seal it.
“The timing, and basically our season was on the line and not our season in the first round,” said forward Udonis Haslem, a 10-year veteran with the franchise and Miami native. “We’re talking about the NBA Finals. If that shot doesn’t go in, we’re probably having our exit meetings (yesterdya). That was the biggest shot in the history of this franchise.”
The first thing Allen heard in the locker room was: “great shot, Jesus.” It was all because he gained fame nearly 15 years ago for a character that continues to define him.
“When he does something amazing, it’s always like, ‘All right, Jesus,’ ” forward Shane Battier said. “It’s a cult figure, no question. Because he’s played so long, he has a cult following.”
The story chronicled the life of a high school basketball prodigy trying to be convinced by his recently paroled father to choose a college. The movie was directed by Spike Lee and also starred Denzel Washington, who played Shuttlesworth’s father. It featured Hall of Fame football player Jim Brown and introduced Rosario Dawson. The title track of the soundtrack was performed by rapper Chuck D.
All this star power, yet only Allen remains associated with the movie. He’s gone on to win an NBA title, become the league’s best 3-point shooter and is a certain Hall of Famer.
Still, it always comes back to Jesus.
“I wasn’t shocked,” Allen said. “Movies are forever. People, they will move basketball games to the archives. But movies, people keep and they will always talk about the best movies of all time.”
What separated Allen from other athletes to star in movies were the similarities in the character. It highlighted the pressures of being a young, black star athlete. Some say the portrayal stuck with Allen because of the basketball element.
That loses validity, considering Shaquille O’Neal is rarely referred to as “Neon Boudeaux” for his role in Blue Chips, another popular basketball movie.
Guard Dwyane Wade said it followed Allen because, in many ways, he was Shuttlesworth.
“It’s funny because he still does certain things that he did in the movie,” Wade said. “He’ll talk sometimes and you just laugh and be like, ‘That’s how you were talking in the movie.’ He was that character. It was his movie. Obviously it was a movie with Denzel, but he was the main guy in the movie.”
As Allen tells it, he auditioned for the part on a whim. A friend asked him to give it a try. It was his first acting experience and he nailed it.
Allen figured his popularity would grow. Just not to this height.
When the Heat played Milwaukee in the first round of the playoffs, a group of fans wore blue T-shirts with “Shuttlesworth” on the back. There are Twitter bios that read: “I count Jesus Shuttlesworth jumpers rather than sheep if I can’t sleep.”
Even after his signature moment in a Heat uniform, the praise was given to Allen’s character on the highlight shows.
With it forever part of his identity, maybe there is even a chance for an encore performance on the big screen.
“Hmm, I don’t know,” Allen said. “I still have an agent. Guess you never know.”