Before Ray Allen ever touched a basketball, the NBA’s all-time three-point kings was born on Castle Air Force base in Merchard, Cali. Walt Allen, a metals technologist, spent 21 years in the military, repairing planes and raising his five children on bases around the the world. One month after the third Allen child officially retired from basketball, Ray joined General Joseph F. Dunford on the USO’s Holiday Tour, visiting American troops in Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and Germany. Allen recounted his life-changing experience to The Crossover’s Jake Fischer.
As a child, I thought I was cursed. I never had the opportunity to live in one place for longer than three years. I never had an opportunity to keep my friends and I wasn’t good at writing letters either. But as I got older and started traveling and then got to the NBA, I realized it was a blessing because I was tailor-made to do what I do: travel around the world and meet and interact with so many different people. I felt like I was built for it.
Every base that I lived at as a kid, I have been back to visit, except for two: one in Oklahoma and another base in Germany. So when the USO called me up and invited me to go abroad—with a stop in Germany—I assumed we would be visiting the base I grew up at. I had so many memories from that base, but I always felt like I needed some type of conclusion or closure. So I was very much looking forward to going to Ramstein, but we ended up at a different base called Grafenwoehr. As it turned out, I still got that closure; being on that base and seeing a lot of young people, I saw a lot of the military members’ spouses and their kids and it still gave me that same feeling I had as a military dependent myself.
There was one gentleman in particular I remember at the Grafenwoehr base. He was 21 years old and had already gotten to see the world. It was so inspirational to hear that because you realize the military has given this young man wings, literally, to fly and be able to see things all around the globe.
In the NBA, often times we’ll be in the locker room and we’ll talk about “going to war” and “going into battle” and “being in the foxhole,” all these terminologies that we equate with being at war. I have such a greater appreciation for the conflicts going on around the world, now I try to not use those terms out of respect, because I know exactly what these guys are doing when they’re in harm’s way. When we go on the floor, we make mistakes all the time—but it doesn’t cost us our lives. Those guys can’t afford to make mistakes and have to have each other’s backs. We look up to them far more than they realize.
One of the things that General Dunford said that resonated with me was, “We’re over here at war, my job is to make sure that we have all away games.” So when I got back on U.S. soil, I thought about how privileged we are. That as much conflict that is going on in the world, we in this country, we have managed for the most part to be void of any war on our home soil. I don’t think people appreciate that enough.
Being in Afghanistan was a slap in the face for me. It woke you up. When you walk around and you see the young men and women carrying their M4s everywhere they go like we carry our iPhones, you realize the serious nature of the ground that you walk on. Anything can happen at any given moment. You have to be prepared. In this country we don’t live with those pressures and those constraints as we move every single day. It gives you a great appreciation for the freedoms and liberties you have as you move around this country.