In the winter of 2004, Jamal Crawford played a back-to-back-to-back-to-back. The first game was on a Friday, when he scored 16 points for the Chicago Bulls at Golden State. The second was on a Saturday, when he scored 18 at Portland. The fourth was on a Monday, when he scored 31 against the Sonics in Seattle. And the third was on a Sunday, when he sneaked away from the team to play at Greenlake Park.
Crawford isn’t sure what he would have told then-Bulls coach Scott Skiles had he sprained an ankle in a pickup game. But when ball is life, a hooper’s gonna hoop.
That’s why this quarantine has been particularly hard on the Seattle native. He can’t do what he was born to do.
“Oh my God, I’ve been counting,” said Crawford, a Rainier Beach High graduate. “I play about three to four times a week, so it’s been about 28 or 30 times that I haven’t been able to play. I miss hooping, man.”
The 40-year-old Crawford has played 19 seasons in the NBA, where he wore jerseys for the Bulls, New York Knicks, Warriors, Atlants Hawks, Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns. He won Sixth Man of the Year three times, and is the only player in NBA history to have 50-point games for four teams.
That fourth quintuple came in his last game in the league, when he dropped 51 points for Phoenix vs. the Mavericks on April 9, 2019.
Quite a way to end career … although he hopes that isn’t the case.
Crawford never retired from the game. He just didn’t get on a roster this season. But could he sign with a team if the NBA comes back?
“I think so,” said Crawford, who still lives in Seattle. “But if not, I’ll be playing at LA Fitness somewhere, and I’ll have more time to spend with my family.”
That family consists of his wife Tori and three kids ages 9, 7, and 3. Their top priority these days is online schooling, which Crawford admits was a little overwhelming at first.
He always has appreciated teachers, but said that appreciation skyrocketed in the midst of this pandemic.
“This has given me a real window into what they have to deal with every day,” he said.
Hoops and family are obviously among the great loves of Crawford’s life, but the city of Seattle is right up there, too.
It didn’t matter that he lived in eight different towns over the course of his career. He always came back to the Emerald City.
Part of it is because Seattle has become such a hotbed for basketball talent. Part of it is because of the spoils of the Sound and greenery. But mainly, it’s about the people — all the people.
Crawford said he once met a homeless man outside of a BMW dealership in the mid 2000s. The man was smart and kind, and the two got to talking.
Crawford ended up taking him shopping and giving him a ride back to his house for a bit, and thanked him for his advice.
What was it?
“That one bad decision can affect your whole life,” Crawford said.
Crawford said his two favorite teams to play for were the Knicks and the Clippers.
The first was because of the energy of Madison Square Garden, where the star power made him feel like he was on stage every game. The second was because, with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the roster, L.A. was a legit title contender.
That title never came, although the 2013-14 Clippers were the last Western Conference team to beat the Warriors in the playoffs. It’s also the squad with which Jamal produced his favorite play of his career.
It came at Staples Center on a breakaway vs. the Bucks, where Crawford leapt, put the ball through this legs, and lobbed it to Griffin, who finished it off with a windmill dunk.
Crawford was nervous he would end up on the blooper real if he messed it up. Instead, it’s on the all-time highlight reel.
“I had that play in my head since high school, but never had the perfect person do it with” Crawford said. “I told (Griffin) about it in September, and he said, ‘Yeah, I could do it.’ But we never practiced it, and that play happened in March. It was just spontaneous.”
Despite his near-two-decade career, Crawford never got to play for a championship. He said that doesn’t bother him, though. Even his last season in Phoenix, when he was playing for a team that went 19-63, he enjoyed passing on his knowledge to the younger generation.
“Sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination,” Crawford said.
Here’s hoping his journey isn’t over yet.