When the Boston Celtics acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in the same offseason, they kicked off what was known as the “Big Three” era. Everybody focused on the trio of superstars entering their first season together. But a fourth star appeared in Rajon Rondo. As the Celtics went on, his place with the franchise clashed with Allen’s. Eventually, it broke up the entire team.
The Boston Big Three
Allen, Garnett, and Paul Pierce were not the first trio of stars to join forces. However, in doing so, they kicked off an era of NBA teams trying to create a similar situation. Without this, the LeBron James era with the Miami Heat may not have occurred. Still, just because the Celtics were revolutionary didn’t mean they were immune to trials. What started as a mentor-mentee relationship between Allen and Rondo turned toxic.
At first, everything went as planned during the first year with this Celtics Big Three. Facing the Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals, the team won its first ring in two decades. Although it proved to be the only ring the Celtics won during this stretch, it set a precedent. Boston was a perennial contender for the next few years. Even as James and Chris Bosh teamed up in Miami, the Celtics stood in the way.
During the later years, as the trio aged, Rondo’s voice in the locker room became louder and, to some, more toxic. His importance to this run could not be understated. But many believed it gave him a big head. Allen, in particular, took issue with the way Rondo began to talk to teammates.
Ray Allen versus Rajon Rondo
By the 2011-12 season, the Celtics were crumbling. Allen felt like he was being alienated by his own team. Despite the reputation with the Big Three, his role was being reduced as he got older. At the same time, Rondo’s head got bigger. Sean Deveney broke down this event for Sporting News.
Playing up his role on the team, Rondo stated that they would not have won in 2008 without him. This, according to Allen, caused everyone to question him. When asked why he acted like that, Rondo said Allen disrespected him and implied that he was the reason the team would break up. Allen described the situation in his book, From the Outside, as Deveney explains:
In the book, Allen seems genuinely unsure of why Rondo turned on him so completely. Allen describes Rondo as a player who expected that he would be treated as a leader without having done the work to deserve the role, and describes the Celtics as an organization that could not figure out how to handle Rondo. Coach Doc Rivers asked Garnett and Allen to ‘Let [Rondo] into the circle,’ but Allen told Rivers, ‘We can’t make him a leader, Doc. He has to earn it.’
Eventually, this boiled over. Allen took the train to Miami.
Ray Allen leaves the Celtics
By 2012, the Miami Heat stood atop the Eastern Conference. As the defending champions with a prime James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, they were poised to repeat. Instead, they got even better. Distraught by his final years in Boston, Allen went to the dark side and joined the rival Heat.
To add insult to injury, he did not just have a supporting role. Allen hit the biggest shot in the 2013 NBA Finals, securing a Game 7 win and eventual Miami victory. He burned the bridge forever. And Boston did not last much longer after Allen left. Within two years, Pierce and Garnett were shipped out.
To this day, Allen is a black sheep among his former teammates. They seemed to take Rondo’s side, especially after Allen joined the Heat. During a 2017 reunion with the championship team, Allen wasn’t invited to celebrate with his former teammates. To this day, many feel betrayed by his decision in 2012.
Rondo is in the twilight of his career while the other main pieces of the story are long-retired. The Celtics’ rise to prominence may paint a portrait of NBA greatness. But the downfall shows how fragile things can be. No matter who’s at fault, bridges were burned between Allen and his former teammates, and Rondo might have been the spark that ignited it most.