Grayson Allen has become one of college basketball’s most polarizing figures. It makes sense too — he not only plays for the forever divisive Duke Blue Devils, but appears to be the human embodiment of how everyone feels about the Coach K-led program.
Duke as a whole has a reputation, one Allen has lived up to during his first few seasons with the program. A little entitled, a teacher’s pet for reasons better left unsaid, and a style of play that often borders on dirty, Allen — as much as Duke — can be hated for simply being loved by others.
Obviously, there’s a bit more to it than that. Jealously, misunderstandings and whatnot all play a role. Unfortunately for the guard and his well-meaning family, they are becoming the epitome of white people problems.
“I realized that this was going to change him forever,” Sherry Allen, Grayson’s mom, said in a wonderfully written Dana O’Neil article, in regard to his tripping incidents. “I also knew he didn’t know that. He wasn’t going to know until it was too late, until he had the reality of it.”
That’s fair. Most people, especially during “in the moment” incidents, rarely realize the repercussions which may await them. At the same time, Allen’s tripping expertise wasn’t limited to a singular event — it happened twice.
As it is with many other people, I would hate to be defined as a person from my “worst” act or acts. One or two, or even a handful, of questionable decisions does not make a person inherently evil or bad. It makes them flawed… which makes them human.
Still, this shifting of the narrative that is (at least on the verge of) taking place is a strange twist of events. Allen, who is free to feel however he wants about his own situation, is taking away something we — media and fans — built for him, which is becoming the next great Duke villain. He wants to become a redemption story, an otherwise benign figure overcoming adversity.
“It is time,” Sherry said, “to put it to rest.”
No. That’s not how this works. Fair or not — and it usually isn’t — a person directly invested in someone’s character perception, like a person’s mom, does not get to decide when everyone moves on. Everyone connected to this story, even if saying differently, realizes that.
It is a bit odd, though, that this is new a talking point. A few weeks before the season is set to tip, but months removed from both incidents, the entire Allen family wants to weave another variation of a story told several months prior: that Grayson Allen isn’t defined by those bad actions, but a good person who did a few dumb things.
That’s probably what he is. That point can’t be noted hard enough. However, let’s not turn this into a kid overcoming adversity. That’s the heart of the matter. A correction should be made in terms of how Allen is defined — by something more than his worst actions — but redemption is not part of that.
Allen comes off as entitled as the program he plays for. He can thank everyone (including Coach K) for feeling the need to tell a different side of the story now.
Don’t want to be considered a dirty player? Don’t make dirty plays.
Don’t want to be the focal point of social media for a few days? Don’t give short-attention-span social media users a reason to pay any attention the first time… or a second.
While simplified to the point of relative unfairness, those are not incredibly difficult things to figure out.
“Most of the time when things like this happen, you’re watching someone else on TV or seeing something on Twitter about someone else,” he told O’Neil. “There’s always something going on with Twitter, and you’re watching it like, ‘Oh it’s this person.’ And then all of a sudden it’s you, and it feels completely different.”
Basketball people, at all levels, generally love when a player is willing to go that extra mile… but that’s not what Allen did. He took a shortcut.
We can try to pretend they were other, less “free-will moments,” but if the backlash he claims is hurting him wasn’t enough to stop him from tripping another player after the first time, an entire family’s effort to attempt to paint one of its own in a more positive light shouldn’t be met with blind, accepting consumption.
Despite many making a huge deal about it, it wasn’t.
It was merely a player from Duke making a few dirty plays. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less.
It is why Allen’s family bringing this back up is confusing. Most have moved on from the incident and would have not spoken about it again unless he continued to make dubious decisions on the hardwood.
Basketball is a GAME. Only the narrow-minded would use a player’s actions on the court to define that talent as a person. I’m not entirely sure the family is helping its cause by pushing the idea that this isn’t who Grayson is. It probably isn’t, and most sane people already know this. Now your entire clan comes off looking like the rich family whining about its neighbor’s grass being 0.025 inches too high after being the ones who dumped unwanted fertilizer on their lawn.
“I know there’s never completely a blank slate,” Grayson said. “That’s going to be replayed and not forgotten about. But for me, every opportunity I get to step on the court is an opportunity to play the game again and play the game the right way.”
Alas, a young person setting himself up for failure. There is no “right” or — even — “wrong” way to play basketball. One simply plays it. The same tactics (tripping) Allen used would otherwise be applauded had he done them in meaningful spots that gave the Blue Devils a victory. Instead, they were during pointless, closing seconds of outings few people actually watched — fewer, certainly, than the number of people who commented on his actions after the fact.
He’s also putting himself under a Draymond Green-like microscope. Each player is currently “known” for what can actually just be reactionary motor functions to certain situations. A physical crack in the human behavior armor might exist, so Allen would be better off not trying to limit and define expectations by his words.
“We’ve moved forward because we know what kind of player he is and what kind of person he is,” Allen’s mother said. “Now he just needs the chance to show everyone else.”
America loves to give second, third, or even 73rd chances. We just do. It is how we are built. Let’s not pretend, though, that whatever happens during this season has anything to do with one of the nation’s best players overcoming adversity, or defying some odds stacked against him. This is just a player, at — yes — a polarizing school, who messed up twice. That is it.
While he might be able to parlay a non-incident season into a better perception, not only should that be one of his lower priorities, it’s a relatively unimportant one. It is easy to say it from the outside, but Allen was going to be hated no matter what — tripping incidents or not.
Perception is often reality, and the current perception of Allen — at least outside the Duke faithful — is that of a dirty, entitled, next-in-line-to-be-the-villain-at-Duke guy. That might not be fair.
Neither is attempting to pretend those moments, while not defining him as a whole, don’t paint the larger picture of who he is as a person: flawed, like everyone else, but apparently embroiled in a combination of first-world problems, with a sprinkle of “I’ll turn this narrative upside its own head” magically working for him.
“It wasn’t a smooth ride to get here to my junior year,” Allen said. “I couldn’t really tell those guys, teach them about adversity or anything like that if it’s something I didn’t go through. I think now I can talk to them a lot more.”
Adversity of the self-imposed variety is certainly something Allen can knows about. He can teach the underclassmen at Duke how to stare it down. Adversity imposed on him by the outside world? No — that never existed, and it doesn’t exist on the eve of the new college basketball season.
It’s actually a lot more simple than the athletic wing likely realizes: Just don’t do dirty things on the basketball court and, you know, you won’t have to face any more adversity — the kind you and you alone created.
Here’s to hoping, for the sake of feet across the nation, he heeds his own advice.