Jamal Crawford made a career out of being an elite sixth-man, and that even translated to his second career in TV, where he spent last year doing some guest work on TNT’s Tuesday studio show. Now, though, Crawford is part of TNT’s full-time starting lineup on Tuesday nights, joining Adam Lefkoe, Candace Parker, and Shaquille O’Neal by filling the seat vacated by Dwyane Wade.
As Crawford explains it, TV wasn’t where he expected to be after his playing career ended, as his initial focus was pursuing a front office or coaching role, but after spending time with NBA TV, TNT, and on HooperVision with Quentin Richardson, he officially has “gotten bit by the bug” and is all-in on being in front of the camera. Ahead of the season premiere of TNT’s Tuesday night coverage this week, Crawford spoke with Dime over the phone about joining the TNT family, his excitement to be on the desk full-time, as well as thoughts about this season — from the individual scoring explosion to the Nets turnaround and more.
As you get ready to start the Tuesday night TNT season, what was last year like for you getting to join that desk on a guest basis? And what are you most excited for coming into the season full time on the TNT desk?
It was really cool for me as a guest because obviously the show is so popular, everybody watches it. So just to get a chance to have an opportunity like that as a guest was really cool. Being around everybody there and then kind of graduating to this point and being blessed enough to get this opportunity to make it home base and be a regular is even more fun. Because now when you go as a guest, you don’t want to over-talk or step anybody’s toes, you know, and you’re just kind of doing your role and doing your job. Now you’re like, I’m doing my role as well, but I’m kind of part of the family and I think that brings a different comfort level.
Whether it’s Inside, whether it’s the Tuesday show, that comfort level is something that that I think the TNT broadcast really wants to show and that family thing comes through. What is your relationship been like with Adam and Candace and Shaq, building to this moment and getting a chance to spend more time with them and get to know them on and off set?
Yeah, I’m so excited because I was truly a fan. Anybody who knows me knows I’m a basketball junkie. So I was really fans of all of them, you know, even before doing guest work. So to get a chance to know them a lot more over the last year, you know with Shaq obviously, Shaq’s one on one, right. Like he’s Shaq, his name says it all. So you know loving Shaq and getting to know him more over the last year and the kind of person he is. And then Lefkoe I was already a fan of, because he’s done such great work. I’ve always loved how he kind of point guards and setting everything up just as a fan and watching him closely and how he does things and goes about his business. He has a certain coolness to him. And Candace is a one of one in her own right as well. I’ve gotten a chance to work with her a lot the last couple of months. We did a lot of work together on Center Court (on NBATV) pretty much every week, the last couple of months and just getting to know her off screen as well. So super, super, super excited, even more excited than I was when I knew I’d be doing it because now I have a real relationship with all of them. I think the chemistry will kind of shine through.
What are the things that you’ve learned in your time between when you stopped playing and now and that transition into broadcasting? Is there anything that surprised you about you know, getting into this world or what have been the biggest lessons that you think you’ve learned, whether it’s Center Court whether it’s the the League Pass games with Q Rich. What are the things that you’ve learned over the past few years in this broadcasting world?
That I’ve gotten bit by the bug, to be honest with you. I didn’t know this would be my future. When I was stepping away from the game, or starting to think about other things as far as not playing, it was more on the front office side. That was actually my only focus. You know, I got offers for both that and coaching, and actually turned ’em down and Q Rich kind of got me in this space. He was my introduction to the space. So I have to give him a big shout out because without him saying, ‘hey man, you’d be good, do this HooperVision with me,’ and that’s kind of how it started. And then guest work and getting bit by the bug. I didn’t know I would enjoy it this much. So this is something I’m really taking the passion to as far as talking the game. I always talked the game. I’ve had camps, I’ve talked with my friends and barbershop talk, but to do it at this level with the world watching, I never knew that I would enjoy it this much. And now I want to be really good at it because I’m really into it.
What is it about talking ball, especially when you get on the desk with somebody like Shaq with somebody like Candace and you know two legends in the game and getting to to swap stories and get their perspective and share your perspective. What is it about that that so special? Because it seems like it would be just such a cool opportunity.
It’s such a cool thing because we all have different perspectives. Right? We all you know have a ton of experience around the game but we all see it from a different lens or we may articulate it from a different lens. And I think there’s something out there for every fan base to gear towards. It may be Candace’s point, it may be Shaq’s point, it may be Lefkoe’s point, it may be something I say that sticks with them. So you have these four different views, and you may agree with us one day or agree with a certain person one day, but then be like, nah I’m not feeling what that person said right there. You know, today they were talking crazy, and that’s what’s so good about it because it’s unscripted. We don’t know what each other’s gonna say, we’re just going off of our feel and our experience and that’s what’s really cool about the Turner and TNT family.
Shifting to what we’ve seen this season. We’ve seen some some crazy offensive individual performances and team performances, obviously led by Donovan Mitchell going for 71 the other night. What are you seeing about the talent level in the league particularly as as offensive playmakers that’s allowing for us to see so many 50-point games, 60-point games and obviously the 71 point point game?
Yeah, let me make a disclaimer by saying obviously the talent is really really great, and it’s exciting and it’s fun to see all these numbers. But on the flip side, I think it’s easier to score right now, to be honest with yaou. Just the way the game is called, the amount of threes that are being put up. I think it’s easier to score, but it’s fun to watch because now you truly can see the best of any person’s game right. Like before you have people who had a ton of game who may have been stifled by a system or stifled by where the league was. But now you’re seeing everybody at their max potential right and that’s what’s really cool about it because you can see these guys have these explosive performances. And we don’t know what’s coming next, to see 50 point games this often, nad to see Donovan get 71 is just like wow, right? He’s not just getting 71, he’s getting 71 and 11 assists and 8 rebounds, like it’s like everything souped up. But it’s fun to watch because you just don’t know what’s gonna happen.
Yeah. You mention the league and the shifts that we’ve seen in how it’s called but also how it’s played. I mean, every team can run a small ball lineup now and the spacing is crazy. You were in the league to see a lot of that shift. You were you were there in the early 2000s and everything was really condensed and then you saw everything starting to get spaced out. When you take a step back, is it kind of crazy to see where the league has gone just in the last 20 years or so?
Yes, it absolutely is. If you think about it, an off the dribble three-pointer was considered the worst shot in basketball. Like no, there’s 22 on the clock you can get that shot anytime. Now, the off the dribble three, if you can shoot that shot, make it a weapon. You’re probably a franchise guy now because you can shoot that shot off the dribble, you’re Dame Lillard or Steph Curry or any of these guys — Trae Young, Luka. Now you’re considered one of the biggest weapons, so to see that change for me personally, because I was a guard who did it early. It was frowned upon and I was sitting on the bench if I did it once, right. To see that change for me is probably the most dramatic thing of all.
Yeah. We’ve also seen the season that it feels like it’s pretty wide open. Early on it looked like Boston was maybe going to kind of run away with the East but they’ve come back a bit. What’s your feeling on where the league is at right now as far as the team dynamics and how we don’t seem to have a clear favorite at this moment? And does that make it more exciting as we get into the second half of the season?
Yeah, for me it makes it a lot more exciting because all these teams truly believe they can win, right? If they believe that, then they’re going to work towards that. They’re going to hold each other accountable to a way like, no we’re supposed to be winning these games and if they’re all doing that, the league will be better off for it. Because you’ll have instead of, you know, we always say there’s five or six teams that we believe can win it, now there might be 12 team that believe they can win it. And that’s almost damn near half the league, right, so if they are right there saying we believe we can win it if we make this move or we do this and we stay injury free. That’s what makes the league great because you don’t know, it’s almost like March Madness. There’s not a favorite, anything can happen. And that’s really cool because it brings the consumer and it brings the fan in. If you’re a fan rooting for one of these teams, you believe your team can win it, so you may root that much harder. So I love seeing it because it’s gonna up the whole level of the league, especially coming down the stretch of the season.
Are there any teams that you look at right now that maybe got off to a little slower start but but that you think can be in that contender range coming up as as we get to the playoff push?
Yeah, Brooklyn. I’ve been big on Brooklyn going into the season so even when they went through the roughest stretch right I was — you can go back and look on the GameTime and Center Courts — I was like I still believe in Brooklyn. So I didn’t know they would win like 20 straight but I thought they would be formidable come playoff time and I really believe now they have the right mix. I believe they made some changes. They gave themselves to the team I think from top to bottom right so you can feel that you can see it but I think they’re still like a backup big away from really being a true contender.
I’m sure you’ve been in a position where you’ve been on a team where there’s been a coaching change, and for a team like Brooklyn, what does that do and how can that kind of galvanize a group? When you get a coaching change you can get somebody that maybe has a different voice that connects with guys a little bit better. Like how does that change? Cause I think as a fan or as somebody who’s not been in a locker room, it can be tough to kind of understand exactly what a coaching change can do. But how can changing that voice and getting the right voice in charge really change a team’s trajectory on a season?
Well, when it’s used the right way like how Brooklyn’s using it, it can be like getting a max player or two. Because this is so dramatic because now guys are like so into it. Even the guys who aren’t playing are like, you know what, this assistant coach may have been my development guy or the guy helping me. Even though he’s not playing me, I believe in him. I know what he’s about. I spent more time with him one on one, so I’m rooting for him. And I know you know if he sees me preparing the way I prepare and he believes in me like I think he does, he’ll give me an opportunity at some point. So it changes everything, especially when it goes good. You know we see changes that haven’t done anything, or they went backwards. But to see a change that’s dramatic and I’ve always had a high regard for Jacque Vaughn. Like I played one game for him. Literally, the only coach ever played one game for, in the bubble, and I wish I could have played more. I was like man, this guy he just gets on every level like he gets it and I just really took him. And I’ve had 20 coaches, right, and some of them are Hall of Famers. But that guy he’s the one guy I wish I could play for. I just loved his makeup and everything he stood for.
Absolutely. And then we’ve had some teams that haven’t necessarily done what we thought they would do. I think Minnesota is one of standouts, there may be starting to find a little something. What does it take in a locker room to turn around the season when you get off to a start that that’s way worse than the expectations were? Like, what has to happen to get a group back on track and how difficult is that when it feels like nothing’s quite going right?
Right. Sometimes you need that trade to shake up things and bring new energy into life. Right? It’s like making a trade sometimes if it’s used in the right way and it works out, mid-season especially, it can give a whole new life. Remember that team in Milwaukee when I think they were struggling kind of up and down and here comes Gary Payton all of a sudden. Now you pair him with Sam Cassell. Now they take off right and they had start having success and now Sam Cassell has more bounce in his step. You know, sometimes the trade can do it and sometimes it’s just the mental reset if a trade’s not there. Like, how bad do we want it? Forget what’s happened, let’s go be the team we thought we’d be coming out of training camp. So it just depends on the leadership and really giving into each other and getting into each other and wanting to be successful for your teammates not for you, so to speak. Those types of things I think can change the course of the season.