Jordan Crawford was back home in Detroit this summer, working on his family business after wrapping up a stint with the Sichuan Blue Whales in the Chinese Basketball Association. In June, he took a break to suit up for Boeheim’s Army, the Syracuse alumni squad playing in the 2019 edition of The Basketball Tournament. He’s been busy, just not the sort of busy that might compete for the attention of a basketball world fixated on the NBA arrival of Zion Williamson and another insane summer of free agency and trades.
Ten years ago, thanks to one surreal, infamous moment that almost no one actually saw, it was a very different story.
In the summer of 2009, Crawford was a 20-year-old sophomore-to-be at Xavier, itching to make his mark after sitting out a transfer year. A three-star recruit out of Hargrave Military Academy, he’d averaged nearly 10 points per game as a freshman at Indiana before transferring. After a season in hoops purgatory, he finally got a chance to show out when he was invited to Nike’s Deron Williams Skills Academy. Drilling and scrimmaging alongside guys like Avery Bradley, Iman Shumpert, and Isaiah Thomas, he played well enough to earn a trip to what was then the premier Swoosh summer basketball event for high school and college players: The LeBron James Skills Academy in Akron, Ohio.
It was a big week for a guy who hadn’t played a game that mattered in more than a year, not least because, as Crawford remembers, “we heard LeBron was going to bring in a bunch of NBA guys, so that’s kind of what we were looking forward to.”
He had no idea.
It was a warm July evening when LeBron and a hand-picked squad of former, future, and almost teammates took the court at the University of Akron’s James A. Rhodes Arena, affectionately known as The JAR. His old high school teammate Romeo Travis was there, as was then-Cav Tarence Kinsey and recent draft picks Danny Green and Christian Eyenga. Their opponents would be a rotating cast of college campers, the first five of whom were Kansas big man Cole Aldrich, Virginia Tech guard Malcolm Delaney, Michigan forward DeShawn Sims, Cal guard Patrick Christopher, and Crawford.
As a veteran LeBron Camp attendee, and one of just a few dozen observers in the gym that night, I can tell you that these late-night runs were always the highlight of the week. You never knew what you’d see, but you could count on two things: arguably the best player alive going about half speed but still putting up a few highlights, and a bunch of hungry young dudes trying to take advantage of what might be the only time they’d ever share the floor with LeBron James.
So it was, a few minutes into a first-to-seven run, that Crawford got the ball off an inbound play and drove hard around his defender and into the paint. LeBron was under the basket — Crawford wasn’t his man — and as the college kid exploded to the rack, the reigning NBA MVP tried to contest. Crawford was too quick. LeBron was a half-second too late.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” Crawford says now, “until I got back to my room that night and people who weren’t even there were already hitting me on my phone.”
When looking back on the night an anonymous college sophomore posterized the best player on the planet, and the hilarious-in-retrospect controversy that ensued, it’s useful to remember the state of social media and mobile technology at the time. While there were a few video cameras in the gym, there weren’t dozens of high-definition camera phones trained on this particular July pickup game. Even if there had been, most of us weren’t on Twitter and Instagram didn’t yet exist. Word of the moment, sans video, spread via text among the high school and college campers on hand.