Growing up as a basketball fan, and rec player, I loved watching shooters. I, myself, was one. There was nothing more pleasing to me that spending a few hours after school just shooting – free throws, layups, mid-range shots and, of course, 3-pointers.
I craved the peace. Just you, the ball and your thoughts. I craved the routine: Dribble. Breathe. Rise. Shoot. Release. I craved the discipline; my father always preached height, accuracy and distance. Those three things, and you HAD the shot. I will remember that as long as I live, since I was entered in free-throw shooting competitions in elementary school to my days as a college intramural player.
In high school, I would shoot outside, from about 4:30 p.m. to 8, focusing on the craft – how to get open, where to get my shots, where to get the perfect release off, how to set up defenders. My shot was not perfect. My brother says I shot from my chest; it was hardly ever blocked. There was little lift involved. My release was quick and my extension was perfect.
To make a long story short, I admire pure shooters. The dedication, commitment and routine devoted to becoming a special shooter is one that is demanding. So when I was able to watch Ray Allen break Reggie Miller’s all-time 3-point makes record last night, I almost teared up.
The record-breaker could not have been set up any better. Rajon Rondo got the ball on the left side and started a fast break. Allen ran down the right side in transition, as Rondo waved him on to spot up. Allen caught the ball in stride, with no Laker anywhere close, and mounted and shot for 3-pointer No. 2,561.
But it did not come easy. Allen begins his game day arriving to the arena four hours early, shooting all kinds of shots, feeling for his rhythm. He shoots off-balanced, straight ahead, running … every shot he imagines he could get in a game, he shoots. And this is how it is for shooters. This is how it was for Reggie Miller, Steve Kerr, Glen Rice, all of whom would shoot, shoot, shoot, whether it was in damp gyms, under bleak street lights, in snow, in rain. There is no stopping.
It’s why Miller applauded Allen and never once showed discomfort toward his record being broken. He understood what it took to get to that point, and what he loved was that we were talking about shooting, a dying art in a world of Blake Griffins, LeBron James’ and Kevin Durants. Shooting remains the heart of the game, yet so few understand that. Or, they refuse to work at it, willing to train in their JumpSoles instead of shooting at the park, rain or shine.
It’s why I, by no means a complete basketball player, shot whenever and wherever. I loved shooting. I respected it. Shooters do not take their gift for granted. To this day, I pantomime shooting. I cradle a ball and shoot it. It never leaves you.
Rice once said, “Shooting is an art.” And how right he was. Shooters are not born. They are made. Players with spectacular physical gifts were given those at birth. Shooters are made by hours upon hours of work, shooting and wearing out the leather on one too many basketballs.
I remember once, one of my colleagues in college once said he saw me in the gym too much, so he looked up my grades, made sure my priorities weren’t backward. They weren’t. I was a fine student. But any free time was spent in the gym, not trying to dunk or shoot halfcourt shots or work out on weights. But shooting. We all yearn to find a niche, and I felt the only way I belonged a basketball court was because I could shoot. At their ages, Miller, Allen and Rice all felt the same; in an age of ball that is becoming faster, quicker and more athletic with each passing season, they had to find a way to make themselves valuable to still earn a paycheck.
So, they shot. And shot. And shot some more.
Records are made to be broken. But only if you put in the work.