For years, we’ve watched Jamal Crawford with our jaws dropped following his usual brilliance with a basketball. Then we waited, agog, for his next incredible offensive display because they usually came in bunches. Just as often, we heard from people around the NBA that we were unlikely to speak with a more intelligent, thought-provoking, but — more importantly — also the most genuine guy in all of the NBA. After chatting with Crawford on Tuesday before their matchup tonight against the Thunder, we can say that Crawford’s kindness, team-first attitude and nimble basketball mind made our 30 minute conversation one of the most enjoyable we’ve ever had.
Maybe it’s that Crawford is from the Northwest, and after talking with Isaiah Thomas — one of Crawford’s good friends — last month, we can’t help but be struck by how selfless they were whenever individual accolades were brought into our line of questioning. That’s not to say they’re missing an ego, every NBA player needs to have an augmented level of self-confidence, but they both possess an authenticity ahd humility that’s rare in this day of personal branding.
The Clippers are currently in a race with the Thunder for the 2-seed in the West, and Crawford’s health, his ability to light it up off the bench, a new-found stake in his ability to defend, not to mention the presence of championship-winning coach Doc Rivers, were just some of the subjects broached.
Crawford grew up in Seattle, leading Rainier Beach High School to a state championship before going on to Michigan where he starred for the Wolverines during a lone freshman season. He ended up foregoing his sophomore year — like so many one-and-done players today — to enter the 2000 NBA Draft. We discussed his love for his hometown and the issues on both sides of the NBA’s current debate about raising the NBA’s age minimum from 19 to 20 years old.
There aren’t many NBA players like Crawford who bring such insight on an eclectic range of topics. The next time you see Crawford cross a defender up and dash to the rim for a twisting layup, remember there’s a really astute, decent guy behind the off-the-charts basketball ability. The Basketball Gods smiled when Jamal Crawford came into being.
Dime: So which muscle group is hurting you right now? We saw reports it was the calf, and others saying it was the left Achilles’ Tendon?
Jamal Crawford: Yeah, it’s the calf, but it’s doing a lot better. Like if there’s a playoff game coming up, I could probably give it a go. Just want to be safe and cautious since the playoffs are actually coming up. I want to be as hundred percent as possible.
Dime: Do you envision playing a couple regular season games just to get back into the flow?
JC: Yeah, for sure. No question about it.
Dime: Doc [Rivers] had said maybe you weren’t going to be ready to go before the playoffs started, but it sounds like you’re feeling a lot better?
JC: Nah, I’m feeling a lot better. I’m optimistic, I get a game or two in before the playoffs start. I would hate to just come right into the playoffs after missing games. I want to be able to keep that rhythm and that chemistry with the guys.
Dime: That’s a tricky area, considering how explosive you are off the dribble. Is that a concern, like exacerbating it if you played.
JC: Yeah, especially the way I play. Like you said, I do a lot of stuff off the dribble, cutting and things of that nature. You’re always pushing off; loading up your toes and loading up your foot and pushing off your calf. That’s the only tricky thing about it. It’s a whole lot better. As days go by, I continue to get stronger and continue to be in pretty good shape at the close of the season.
Dime: You guys have been playing really well this season. A lot of people attribute that to Doc. What’s the biggest difference between this year and last season — your first in LA?
JC: I would agree with that. I think if you look at it, I’ve had a pretty good season. I think Chris [Paul] had another stellar season, Blake [Griffin’s] been playing at the MVP level. DeAndre Jordan has basically had the Defensive Player of the Year-type season, and Most Improved. I think that’s been great. [Darren] Collison has played great. J.J. Redick is there and everybody’s played great. But Doc has truly been the MVP of our team. I think getting everybody to buy in from day 1. It’s coming from a guy — and that’s no disrespect to anybody else, because I was a big Vinny Del Negro guy — but it’s more Doc. To actually accomplish, and reach that mountain top of him being confident. Winning a championship then going back to the Championship [2008, 2010 with the Celtics]. If you want to be a championship-level you kind of have to have a championship-level coach. Someone that’s actually won it, or been there. You know he’s done both, so we’ve all bought in, and he’s been the true MVP of this season.
Dime: What’s something he’s asked you to do — or any sort of advice that changed up your own game.
JC: For me personally, it’s defense. This is the first time in my career where I’m thinking about pride, if I’m making a mistake on defense. Usually if I back off and someone scores, I’ll get it back on the other end; I’ll go back at them. Now, I think with him [Doc] and his staff — Tyron Lue, [Armond] Hill, [Brendan] O’Connor, Kevin Eastman, Howard Eisley…and all the those guys, I take pride in defense now. So if I get scored on and make a mistake, it really bothers me. Like if I had missed a shot or something like that. He’s made me a better all-around player with that. For our team, he just gets everybody to buy in and turn us into a no excuse team. We’ve had guys out: Chris was the first one to be out for a long period of time, ah, J.J. was, then Chris and then myself. And there were no excuses no matter who was in or out. Guys stepped right in for Chris and that’s because Doc and his staff were prepared.
Dime: I think you got a couple starts, and Darren was starting. You spent the first eight years of your career starting until after that final half-season with Golden State. How do you prepare for coming in cold, right off the bench, ready to go? Especially a guy like you that is a flow shooter a bit, what’s your mindset, or how did that change when you started coming off the bench?
JC: That’s a good question. At first, to even do that, I was tired of losing. You know, going to a team like the Atlanta Hawks, where they had their starting five in place, and at that point I was starting my ninth or 10th season and I hadn’t made the playoffs yet. So I was like whatever it takes to win, I don’t care if I come off the bench, if it’s to bring ya’ll towels, whatever. I came off the bench for a time. My first full-time season [coming off the bench], we won a lot of games, I won Sixth Man of the Year and it worked out. And with that it was important because of balance. Actually having one of your top players come off the bench for when your stars come out, or your top players, they don’t feel like they have to rush back into the game, and they’re well rested. And in the fourth quarter they’ll be fresher and you’ll have your best players out there anyway. But first it just really gave us balance, and any championship-level contender has to have a guy like that off the bench. And that’s sacrifice. It truly has to be about winning, and not about, ‘I should be starting.’ Because growing up, everybody wants to start. In the big picture, for us, it gives us a chance to win.
Dime: Was there a change? You’re a top 10 player in the isolation, and top 20 as a pick-and-roll ball handler, do you think coming off the bench accentuates the positives you bring to the floor, since you’re playing with the second team and you can handle the rock more?
JC:I understand the importance of that because when I’m out there with Chris, he’s the primary ball handler — he would be throughout the league. So I totally understand, and I get it. So I play more off him and Blake when I’m out there. With the second team, I’m more of an option as far as ball handling and doing things with the ball. In terms of balance, I understand when I come in and play both roles. I think that definitely benefits us. Everybody on our team sacrifices a little bit, and we’re trying to make the whole thing work. I think we’re doing a good job of that, but Doc is right there in the center of everything.
Dime: What are some of the things he’s told you this season? You’re shooting more three’s, more than you ever have before — in terms of percentage of your attempts. Is that something Doc talked to you about, like ‘hey, we need you to spot up for that extra point?’
JC: I kind of knew coming in that there would be more catch-and-shoot opportunities. With the way our offense is set up, the way [assistant coach] Alvin Gentry does the offense, the way Doc does the offense. Because with us — having two super super stars like that [Blake and CP3], you want to have great space, and spread the floor. So I knew coming in I would do less with the ball, as far as ball handling responsibilities. Because if you watch the tape [in Boston], Doc had [Rajon] Rondo as the guy who was orchestrating all the time; Rondo setting up [Paul] Pierce and Ray Allen. So with that, I understood, even more than last year. I worked on my catch-and-shoot a lot, which really helped me out when I came into it [Doc’s new schemes] because I was able to shoot more three’s than I have in the past, and they were all high percentage because of Paul’s dribble penetration.
Dime: You’re one of the leading contenders for the Sixth Man of the Year award, are you even aware of stuff like that? Do you watch other guys off the bench?
JC: Yeah, it’s hard. You definitely hear different things through social media, from reporters and questions and stuff like that. The thing about it is, you can’t even be mentioned for postseason awards if you’re not winning. You can’t be having a good season individually and you’re team’s not winning. That doesn’t even qualify you, so the team winning is more important than anything, and then having success — a pretty big role in that. They go hand-in-hand. So if you’re not winning, and my team needs me, I’ll play the part, but something like [Sixth Man of the Year] is not possible without your teammates and coaching staff putting you in that position. So I’ve always focused on team before postseason awards. I definitely watch everybody, not just the guys off the bench. I’m a big basketball buff, so I watch every team and I’m interested in everything team’s are doing. There are some really good guys out there, but we’re definitely trying to win, and if those things (awards) come along with it, we’ll take it.
Dime: What brought that team concept home? Like you’re one of the rare guys in the league that can just go off. You’re one of a select few who have scored 50 points for three different teams [the other three are Wilt Chamberlain, Bernard King and Moses Malone]. With that sort of talent, how did you adapt to the team concept when so many other guys wouldn’t?
JC: Yeah, just winning. If you look at great scorers and talents in the past, you have to be able to rely on your teammates; you have to be able to trust your teammates. Sometimes, I’ll do something, and it’s not premeditated to see which advantages and maybe the advantages are shooting at that particular time. Or maybe it’s drawing someone else in to get my teammates an easier shot. It’s just reading the game, from experience and playing all the time. I play every single day of my life, over the summer and everything. So those are all game situations. When you go through those, it gives you experience for what’s going to help you in that particular time. It’s about the team, and it all comes down to winning. I’ve always [cared about winning first] — especially before the NBA. In high school I won a championship; in college we had a really good record while I was playing, so I’ve always wanted to win more than anything else. That’s just who I am.
Dime: You might have heard that new commissioner Adam Silver is looking to raise the age requirement to 20. Theoretically, if that had happened in your day, you would have needed to play a second year at Michigan. You’ve seen a lot of young kids make it, and not make it, so what are your thoughts on the age limit? Would an extra year in college have helped? Where do you stand on the issue?
JC: I don’t know. I’m torn a little bit because I see both sides. Like you said, we’ve seen guys succeeding or failing on both sides when it comes to the NBA, whether staying four years or coming out early. Each individual case is a little bit different. But I think one year is enough because they got a chance to experience college. You’re right, there are young kids coming in against grown men who have to provide for their families, and who have been in this for a long time. Plus, traveling and all that comes with that stuff. If you’re 18 years old, I can only imagine how rough it is to actually do that: manage everything that comes with being a professional athlete; knowing when to get your rest, knowing how to be a professional as far as getting extra shots up, or whatever it may be. I understand that part of it, but I think getting the opportunity after one year, I’m fine with that. Two years, it’s kind of like, OK — he’s already stayed in college one year. Staying in college another year wouldn’t hurt, but if a player has an opportunity to go right now and make a living we shouldn’t hold him back from that. Especially if he’s experienced college already.
Dime: Looking back, do you wish you had stayed another year at Michigan? Obviously you’ve been really successful, but would an extra year have done anything?
JC: Maybe it would have. Who knows going back? Because if I hadn’t made it after three or four years, people could have said, ‘oh yeah, he should have stayed another year.’ So who knows, but for me personally, I left myself an option of going back. I didn’t sign with an agent when I declared, in case I didn’t like the feel of where I was going or what was going on; that was important. So if that had happened, and I hadn’t gotten drafted as high, I would have definitely gone back for my sophomore season. But the opportunity presented itself where I was a lottery pick and one of the first players taken [No. 8 to Cleveland, who traded him to Chicago on draft day], and I had to do it.
Dime: Smart to declare, but not sign with an agent to leave yourself an out. What was the adjustment like once you got in the league? I remember being 19, 20 years old, and I didn’t have the maturity to handle being on the road all the time making millions of dollars. So what sort of advice would you give Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker to acculturate themselves with the NBA and the change in lifestyle?
JC: For me, I was with the Chicago Bulls, who were rebuilding after Jordan. So the first two years I think we were the youngest team in the league. The first day of training camp we had two practices and I had only worn one pair of socks. During the second practice, I couldn’t even walk, it was like walking on hot coals. So just little things like that, having veterans around you, guys like Kevin Ollie, Jalen Rose, Charles Oakley and Rick Brunson. All those guys around me, after my first or second year, definitely helped. Seeing how pros take care of themselves, how they eat, how they get their rest, how they manage to get shots up before and after practice. Just being a professional, seeing it every day, seeing an example definitely helped shape or mold my career. So when I got to me second, third, fourth year, I was much better prepared than I was coming into my rookie year. I did certain things — you can’t ask too many questions, you know? You can save a lot of pain…how to rest and how to manage your family because the income involved. New-found fame and wealth, and how to manage all that. You just ask the questions of guys that have been there and experienced it.
Dime: So now you’re helping guys that are coming into the league who need that sort of advice?
JC: Definitely, no doubt about it. I help guys who are from my city in Seattle, who I don’t play with, but who are in the NBA. [They’re] asking questions about how to do certain things, and I try to be there as well.
Dime: We were talking to Zeke [Isaiah Thomas] a couple weeks ago, and he keeps beating guys out in Sacramento. We know you guys are tight. What sorts of things are you telling him coming up on free agency? What factors are most important in determining where you’re going to sign?
JC: Whether [the team] is responsible, where the team is going, how you fit in, where you’re playing, how stable they are. Now, especially in the NBA, there’s so much turnover, so much change. Personally, that’s why I think teams were better and had so much success in the 80s. They stick together, play together seven or eight years. You had the Celtics with McHale, Bird, Parish and all those guys; the Lakers had Worthy, Magic, Byron Scott, and they played together seven, eight, nine years. Now, the way the NBA is, guys are playing together every year, maybe every three years. There’s constant turnover and change. I just tell him to do what’s best for his family, for the kids, how he fits in with the team, and to take some time [before making the decision].
— JackThreads (@JackThreads) April 8, 2014
Dime: Now, doing some background, we see that you work with a boutique brand, Brandblack.com. We know there was a J. Crossover that came out over the holidays, so what should we be looking for on the sneaker front, and how did you hook up with Brand Black?
JC: Well, we have a special hidden sale for our day one supporters at jackthread.com where you can get the shoe early. You can go to brandblack.com on the 14th [of April], which is coming up here soon. We have the white, the gun metal silvers coming out and the black coming out that’s the first label shoe you can get. You can get them at brandblack.com. We just shot a commercial for them which will air right after the playoffs start. It’s really tight because growing up, seeing Allen Iverson with Reebok, and obviously [Michael] Jordan. Gary Payton had his own shoe. Those guys had their own feature shoe. So to be able to have one as a Sixth Man at this point in my career is really just cool. Kind of unheard of, but it just shows that’s the way the world is kind of going. To have that fanbase to support you, people have that interest in you. I think it’s really cool to have that partnership with Brand Black, to be their ambassador and to have my own shoe coming out is just really really cool. So you can purchase them on the 14th at brandblack.com. You can go there now to see pictures. Hopefully they’re successful. I have so many different colorways, I’ll be able to do giveaways and stuff like that. I actually gave away the Chrismtas ones.
Dime: We read an article with the Seattle Times about some of the things you try and give back to your hometown. What sort of things do you do in Seattle.
JC: Well, I do a lot actually, as far as my foundation. I do a basketball camp, I think I’m doing three camps this year. For that we do a backpack giveaway for kids going back to school. For the girls they get their nails done, for the guys they get a haircut. Then we load the backpack with pens, paper, erasers — everything they need so parents don’t have to stress back-to-school costs. Then we have the pro-am that I do. Beyond not having a basketball team, we kind of focus on having NBA players. Last year I brought Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, you know top guys. And all these guys kids might not get to see them up close except on TV, and [with the pro am] they get to see them in person for free. And we do that every summer. We have trainers at public schools come through and I have defibrillators, because not all the public schools have them. Actually one of the defibrillators saved a life last year. So just different cool things we try to do: A BBQ on the 4th of July for the whole city for free, so everyone can come out and enjoy.
Dime: Was Seattle helpful in shaping you into the guy you are today?
JC: Yeah, no question about it. I’ve always loved the people there. Even growing up, I’ve always felt most comfortable there. That’s where I’ll be when I retire. For me, it’s all about giving back. I was able to be around Doug Christie, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp and see how they — as professional athletes — how they gave back, and it inspired me. And I always said that if I’m in that position, that’s what I want to inspire and that’s what I’m trying to do with my foundation.
Dime: Who is the funniest guy behind-the-scenes who no one would realize?
JC: Oh man, well I’ve played with Nate Robinson in high school and the NBA, and he’s hilarious, but you probably already know that. Malik Rose is funny, he’s really funny. He played for the Spurs, so he was all about professionalism and he’s commentating for the Sixers. But he was really good. I’ve played with a host of guys, so it’s tough to answer off the top. But [Malik] is a movie buff, so he’s always re-enacting movies and stuff. He’s the funniest for sure.
Dime: There’s this famous clip of you this year where you’re asked to name every coach you’ve ever played for in you NBA career. And we were shocked that you got pretty much every one.
JC: Yeah, that was weird, especially at the game — I was thinking more about the game. I was caught off-guard, but I was able to nail it, which was pretty cool. That video went viral. I don’t see what the big deal about it is, but it was pretty cool.
Dime: You’re the career leader in four-point plays. How do you knock down the shot when a defender is flying at you
JC: Yeah. For me personally, the hardest part is the free throw afterwards. I think that’s one of the hardest things to concentrate on, but I think I shoot it when they least expect it, so I’m already in the shooting motion. The shot is actually a little easier than you’d think. I’m already in the shooting motion, so I pretty much just need to follow through. The free throw afterwards, I’ve missed that a few times — that’s the hardest part for me.
Dime: The refs had made it a point of emphasis the last few years, and they call it the Reggie Miller rule. They’re looking at the feet popping out on the shot and actually calling an offense foul. Is that something that’s changed your approach attempting a three with a man on you?
JC: No, I think that’s happened once. Most of the time, when I got fouled, it wasn’t with my feet, it was up top affecting my shooting motion.
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