Tuesday July 10, 2012

In the blink of an eye - or the click of a mouse - an athlete can go from hero to villain.

The separate world that is Boston sports not only learned that, but perpetuated that, late last week when the news of Ray Allen's departure for the NBA champion Miami Heat was reported.

It seemed every sports fan in the social media, be it on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Google+, became your average TV or talk-radio screamer. Few people had a rational thought on Allen's signing with Boston's latest rival in the Eastern Conference, and fewer still typed thoughts that could be repeated on basic cable (though I'm not here to lecture anyone on language; at times, mine is fouler than that of most people).

The prevailing feeling among Celtics fans in front of their keyboards seemed to be this: Ray Allen is a traitor.

That is one of the most ridiculous things anyone could think in this situation, or any situation like it in professional sports. Just as Albert Pujols and LeBron James before him owed little - if anything - to the cities they left in free agency, Allen owes Boston nothing.

He was sent to Boston via trade five years ago, the second piece to the Celtics' second "Big Three." Kevin Garnett followed him soon after that, and within a year, Boston was celebrating another NBA championship. It was the only title Allen would win with the Celtics, but Boston sports fans can really make championship memories last.

By his final year as a Celtic, Allen was a bench player, brought in (when healthy) to knock down critical longrange shots. The same fans whose arms would go up in celebration as soon as a wideopen Allen was fed the ball in the corner hailed him as a classy, gutsy warrior.

Now that he's headed for the Celtics' rival du jour, though, Allen is a treacherous dog who just wants to jump on a bandwagon. All his accomplishments in Boston are not just forgotten, but stricken from the record in the court of public opinion.

Never mind that he took less money to go to Miami than Boston would have offered to keep him. Never mind that the Celtics dangled him as trade bait many times in the last two seasons. Never mind that he was looking at an even more diminished role with Boston's signing of guard Jason Terry.

It's apparently just easier to type F-bombs and the word "traitor" (or "trader," a similarly- pronounced but misspelled word in this situation), heaping more hatred on the widely-despised Heat.

Hate Miami all you want, Celtics fans; after "The Decision," it's certainly easy to do. Don't use 140 characters to bash Allen, though, just because he sees an opportunity outside of Boston to win a second ring. Root against his new team, but remember he represented your favorite team with class, doing everything his body allowed him to do to win.

Every pro athlete has a similar goal: to win. That's why James left Cleveland for Miami. They live for new challenges. That's why Pujols left St. Louis for Anaheim after two championships.

The Boston Celtics are winners. Ray Allen is a winner. The Heat are winners. Online, Celtics fans look like anything but winners.

To reach Matthew Sprague: msprague@berkshireeagle.com, (413) 496-6254.

On Twitter:@EagleSportsZone.