Why this matters
Jerome Allen's path has not been an easy one. From growing up in the Philadelphia projects, to becoming an NBA coach, to pleading guilty to bribery and testifying in billion dollar lawsuit, he decided to tell his story his way.
Like the rest of the NBA, Jerome Allen is currently in the bubble, trying to make sense of the state of the nation. After the shooting of Jacob Blake, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play in a playoff game which sent ripples through the rest of the league and other major sports organizations. Last week, the Toronto Raptors and Allen’s Boston Celtics made their own headlines for discussing a boycott in response to the shooting.
Allen mentions how people were shocked by Emmett Till’s open casket funeral, shocked by police brutality at the Selma March, and shocked by the murder of George Floyd. “It raises the question of what has really changed,” says Allen. “I’m past the symbolism and hashtags and rally cries because I know there are systems in place that plague this country.”
However, Allen notes that coaching means more than drawing “X’s and O’s.” In regards to the players who he works with, he says, “I would be doing them a disservice if I was in this space and we were in this current climate if I was just talking about basketball.”
Allen is widely admired by players, co-workers, community members, and fans for his dedication to improving his team and community. He was a gifted basketball player who won three Ivy League titles with UPenn, played in the NBA, and competed in Europe for over a decade. He also created Helping Our Own Develop (H.O.O.D.) Enriched, a program that provided academic support and basketball coaching to underserved kids in his hometown of Philadelphia.
After retiring from basketball in 2009, Allen joined the UPenn coaching staff which seemed like the perfect step to a full-circle story. But then he met Philip Esformes, a wealthy healthcare industry executive who promised to change his life.
Esformes paid Allen over $300,000 to admit his son to UPenn’s Wharton School of Business and to secure him a spot on the basketball team. While coaching with the Celtics, Allen pleaded guilty to bribery charges in 2018. Last year, found himself testifying in a $1 billion Medicare fraud case against Esformes just as the Varsity Blues scandal was unfolding. Allen was ordered to pay a 6-digit fine and was put on house arrest.
While Allen still maintained his coaching position with the Celtics and his generally good reputation, he felt like he needed to tell the story by himself and for himself. In his book, When The Alphabet Comes, he dives into why he made those decisions that at surface level seem hard to understand. When asked why he wrote it, he says, “I just want to give my testimony.”
“Going through the stuff around the case really allowed me to address some of the hypocrisy I was carrying in my own life, like access, privilege, and my disdain for it anytime it was exercised in front of me,” he states. “You’re fine when you benefit from it, but when others exercise it in front of you, you get pissed off. Why is that the case?”
He continues, “I felt like it was important to completely undress myself and talk about the good guy who’s loyal and kind-hearted and loves his community, but who has these bouts of jealousy and envy and sins of the heart. When it gets spilled out at the wrong time, you could lose your witness. You could lose your career. You could lose your family. Your reputation. [There’s a] loss of integrity that comes with it.”
If anything, Allen is reclaiming that integrity. His vulnerability and commitment to making amends to himself, his family, and his community demonstrates this. His story of the superficial “American Dream,” manipulation, and forgiveness has already resonated with so many people. He states, “Even if the book only reaches one person, I feel like I was obedient in what I was supposed to deliver.”
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