By// Jerry Bembry
When Ray Allen was picked by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1996 draft, Flo Allen — his mother — vowed to see every game. So imagine her anxiety the night of his preseason opener when a downed satellite due to a storm near her Connecticut home threatened her plan.
“I didn’t know what to do, so finally I called ESPN,” Flo says, laughing. “I said ‘hi guys, this is Ray Allen’s mom and he’s playing his first game.’ And they said ‘come on by.’ And I drove to Bristol, and that’s where I watched Ray’s first NBA game.”
In the 15 years since, Ray has been traded twice (to the Seattle Supersonics in 2003, and the Boston Celtics in 2007), won a gold medal (2000) and NBA championship (with the Celtics in 2008), and this season surpassed Reggie Miller as the NBA’s all-time three-point shooter.
And Flo has been with him every step of the way, watching — whether it’s been live, on television or on the Internet — each of his more than 1,200 combined regular season and playoff games.
“I’ve seen every one of his three-point shots,” Flo brags. “I think it’s important that I do that because if he feels the need to talk about something after the game, I need to know what’s going on. My friends know that on game night, don’t even ask me about doing anything.”
If you’ve watched the Boston Celtics these past four years, you probably know Flo Allen. She’s a standout on her own merits — boasting a short hairstyle, looking fine, fit, and wearing her 50-plus years extremely well. But it’s what she wears as attire that really sets her apart — her distinctive No. 20 Boston Celtics jersey with the words “Mom Allen” scripted on it in bedazzling shine.
“When Ray got traded to Boston and I came to my first game here, all I saw when I walked into the arena were No. 5s and No. 34s,” Flo says, speaking about the numbers worn by Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. “So I said ‘I’m going to make Ray’s number 20 the most memorable jersey in the building.”
So Flo went to a Jo-Ann Fabrics store, bought bags and bags of beads, and spent an entire night working on a jersey design that she debuted at her son’s next home game.
“It was an instant hit,” Flo says, laughing. “It took on a life of its own.”
And it took an act of love for Flo and the jersey to part ways. On the journey to the 2008 NBA championship, Flo’s grandson, Walker Allen — Ray’s son — was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes. The family immediately became involved with the Joslin Diabetes Center. When it was suggested to Flo that she donate her popular jersey for a gala auction raising money for diabetes, she didn’t hesitate.
“That jersey sold for $11,000,” Flo says, proudly. “Just like my children, I would do anything for my grandchildren. And when I saw the hurt in my grandson’s eyes after he was diagnosed, I felt hopeless. And I wanted to do everything I could in my power to help him, and others like him.”
That effort has extended these past two years to the Boston Marathon, where Flo has joined “Team Joslin” in an effort to raise money. For the record: prior to the 2010 26.2-mile race, Flo did most of her exercise on a spin bike — and was not much of a runner until Ray mentioned it.
“Mom, all that spinning that you do in Florida,” Ray told her. “You have to run a marathon.”
So while Ray prepared for the 2010 playoffs, Flo set out last year to run her first marathon. Over the course, her legs became rubbery and she had slowed from a jog to a power walk when she felt somebody bump her with two miles remaining.
It was Ray.
“Mom, when we turn that corner, we’re going to see the finish line,” he told her.
“I don’t know if I have the legs,” she replied.
“If you can’t make it,” he responded, “then I’ll carry you.”
Talking about that moment more than a year later, Flo gets a little emotional.
“That was one of the most precious moments for me,” she says. “His wife, Shannon, asked him ‘how are you going to find your mother.’ And he told her ‘I don’t know, but I will.’ He was very supportive, and he helped me finish that race.”
On April 18, Flo finished her second marathon. And the next night she was at her regular courtside seat — wearing a new, bedazzled jersey — cheering her son and the Celtics on in a playoff win over the New York Knicks.
For Mother’s Day, she’ll follow a routine she’s had the past four years: time in Boston with Ray and his family.
“I bleed Celtic green and it’s the playoffs, and there isn’t a better place to be than with my son, his lovely wife and my grandchildren.
“What’s my best Mother’s Day memory with Ray? The flowers and material things are great, but all I need for Mother’s Day from Ray is a hug. I’m a family person, and when I get that hug on Mother’s Day from Ray, that’s the best gift he could ever give me.”
— Jerry Bembry is a video producer and award-winning journalist.