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McDonald’s taught Ray Allen an early lesson about conditioning that helped shape an 18-year career

Jul 10, 2013, 8:45 AM EDT

Ray Allen Getty Images

Ray Allen just opted in for an 18th NBA season at age 38. That decision was certainly made easier by the fact his 17th season ended with a championship ring, one the Miami Heat would not have won without him. Plus he is still effective — he averaged 10.9 points a game and shot 41.9 percent from three last season.

Which is pretty ridiculous when you think about it. Playing at that level, keeping your body in tune like that for 1,378 games (regular season and playoffs) and deciding at least 82 more at his age was a good idea.

Few players take their health as seriously as Allen (who is in Washington D.C. this week speaking to congress on behalf of the health of his six-year-old son with diabetes).

Allen can thank a Hartford area McDonald’s for teaching him that lesson early on (and he didn’t have to go the full Morgan Spurlock to learn his lesson).

“There was a time in college where before practice I went to McDonald’s and I had a quarter pounder with cheese, I went to practice that day and I just remembered I felt so sluggish out there,” Allen told ProBasketballTalk. “And I was looking around thinking ‘Coach is just working us to hard’ because I just feel so tired. I ask the guys around me, ‘Do you guys feel tired? Because I just can’t move around like I want to” and everybody is like ‘no, I’m good.’

“And I was thinking about it all practice — wow I had a cheeseburger before I came to practice, I can’t do that anymore. From that day forward I started thinking about everything I put in my body that was preventing me from performing. I started realizing it is connected.

“So when I got to the NBA I had a pregame routine, a game day routine. How I worked out affected how I ate.”

Allen’s pregame routine and ritual are the most precise and detailed in the league (Dirk Nowitizki comes close). Allen is nearly OCD about his routine — he doesn’t like it changed. He wants that structure in his life.

He said he has tried to preach that to other players over the years — the usual pattern for players entering the league is that they eat pretty badly for a few years, but as their bodies start to age a little they realize what Allen figured out in college.

“That’s the adjustment,” Allen said. “I think so many people fall out of favor when they get to the NBA because you don’t have a structure. It’s important for a lot of guys, when they go through college, you learn a structure, and you got to carry that structure over (to the NBA). But some guys they get to the NBA, or any professional sport at all, and they say ‘I don’t have a coach breathing down my neck all day I can do what I want eating wise, I can manage my own time and do what I want and stay up late.’ Some guys almost rebel.

“But you almost have to go in the other direction. You have to take this as an opportunity to say, ‘I’m in the NBA and I want to make a lot of money, if I want to be around for a long time, I have to make sure I prioritize this job… The money is really a non-issue; it’s really about being effective and successful at your job. The money will come along with it.”

Allen is more focused now on the health of his son, and that’s why he is in Washington, to lobby for the Special Diabetes Program – legislation focused on multi-year funding of Type 1 diabetes research that congress must renew every couple years.

“My son Walker, he is six years old and he has Type 1 diabetes,” Allen said. “He’s a delegate, part of the children’s congress. Every two years now the Children’s Congress comes to Washington to make sure we continue to hold our elected politicians to task for continued funding, especially for diabetes programs.”

Allen knows this is one place his celebrity and status can help his child and others like him — Allen and his wife have done a number of public service announcements with Walker, and they are personally involved in the cause. Which includes going to Washington every couple years to talk to congress about the realities of the disease and the need for research.

“I just tell them a little bit about who we are as a family and who Walker is,” Allen said. “Basically giving a human side to the story — diabetes is not just a word or a disease, there are people who fight every day to keep their children alive. There are families all across America like that.

“I’m just a dad just trying to make sure his son gets the proper care that he deserves and hope that one day they find a cure. It just so happens that I do have a high profile job and I walk into a room of high profile people and let them know this what I deal with regardless of what I’m dealing with professionally.”

He’s going to get to deal with those professional issues one more year. Thanks to the care he has taken of his body. And with a little nudge from McDonald’s.

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