Seattle’s Best Turn Out For Jamal Crawford’s Pro Am All-Star Game

Leave it to my city to turn a friendly game of basketball into a political battlefield.

At the same time that a legitimate proposal to build a new NBA arena is being kicked around the Seattle City Council, an event like the Jamal Crawford Summer Pro Am All-Star Game takes on a heavier meaning: A community rally of sorts for arena supporters and starving Supersonics fans to point out basketball’s role in the fabric of the Emerald City, but also an opportunity for arena opponents to say, “Why do we need to build a $400 million basketball facility when you guys seem perfectly happy here?”

And just as it was when Brandon Roy hosted a charity game at KeyArena (former home of the Sonics) last summer, you couldn’t help but make the connection between the quasi-NBA action on the court Sunday and the ongoing debate on whether the NBA should return to Seattle.

Politics aside, though, local legend Jamal Crawford and his partners deserve nothing but credit for putting together the best display of basketball that Seattle will see for the foreseeable future.

At around 2 p.m., Crawford (L.A. Clippers) entered an already packed gym at the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club shortly after the start of what seemed like the longest three-point shootout ever. Former University of Washington point guard and NBA 10-day type Will Conroy — certainly the most active and visible basketball player in this city — once told me that you can tell a Seattle ballplayer by his affinity for the jump shot, and his words rang true as the field for this three-point shootout seemed about 12 deep.

And it was actually another former UW point guard, reigning NBA D-League MVP Justin Dentmon (Austin Toros), that beat out Crawford in the finals to win the contest.

The dunk contest only had four or five guys, and even though the best dunker in the building (Terrence Williams of the Sacramento Kings) was wearing sweats and serving as a judge, still got the crowd plenty hyped for the main event. Local product Kevin Kemp took the crown, capping his performance by vaulting his 6-2 frame over a 6-8 man he’d placed in the lane and finishing with two hands. Kemp didn’t even really need that dunk, because he’d basically won the contest earlier when he nearly caused a riot by jumping over another (shorter) guy and throwing down a vicious windmill at the same time. My view was slightly obstructed at the time, but my little nephew swore he saw sparks come off the rim on that dunk.

The all-star game itself brought out the stars. The West team features Crawford, Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento Kings), Spencer Hawes (Philadelphia 76ers) and Tony Wroten Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies), while the East team was led by Williams, Aaron Brooks (Sacramento Kings) and Conroy.

Crawford, naturally the star of the show and owner of arguably the NBA’s best handle, delivered his customary three to four pairs of broken ankles with behind-the-backs, crossovers and step-backs, and drained more threes than a Ray Allen workout session. (I didn’t have access to a box score, so I have no idea who scored how many points.) The NBA player in Crawford really came out when he spent a good chunk of the third quarter complaining to one ref about a no-call when he was hit on the elbow taking a jumper, but otherwise he basked in his moment as the acting Godfather of Seattle basketball.

Wroten’s bright pink Nikes would’ve drawn attention his way whether he was on the court or in the crowd, but the first-round draft pick would’ve shined in any shoes.

While a guy like Conroy will take games like these 100 percent serious, Wroten was about 11 percent serious for most of the first half. He airballed a couple jumpers and missed a couple layups, and couldn’t have cared less. He was on a strict mission to have fun and clown around. In the second half Wroten stepped it up, though, catching an off-the-glass lob and finishing with a dunk, making some hard drives to the basket, flipping some no-look passes right on target, and skying over everybody on a tip dunk that he punctuated by swinging on the rim for about 10 seconds afterward.

Thomas attacked the rim constantly, even though the refs weren’t calling too many fouls, mixing in acrobatic layups with his share of outside jumpers. Thomas’ height was the only thing that would’ve given away that he was a pass-first NBA starting point guard, because on Sunday he was playing more like a sparkplug scorer off the bench, like a controlled Nate Robinson.

Brooks, who’s expected to back up Thomas in Sacramento, played mostly outside the arc and showed a smooth shooting stroke along with some impressive (if not always flashy) passes. His bright red kicks might’ve been leftovers from his time with the Houston Rockets.

Hawes was about what you’d expect from a 7-footer in a playground all-star game. He had a handful of dunks in transition and caught a few alley-oops in the halfcourt set, but with the guards dominating the action, Hawes didn’t get much of a chance to show off any newly learned post moves.

Then there was T-Will, who went through the gamut of ups and downs for one player in one game.

Williams ultimately led the East to a 146-143 victory, and while there wasn’t an official MVP presentation, he was the top guy for his squad and filled the stat sheet like a bootleg LeBron James. Williams started off playing like a guy who’d been encouraged to work on his jumper during the offseason, taking and making fadeaways, turnaround, pull-ups and deep threes. During one stretch of the third quarter he drained triples on about four consecutive possessions. Williams also had some highlight finishes at the rim, and when he decided to play facilitator, set up his teammates for easy buckets.

But then, during the second half, Williams staged something of a one-man mutiny against his coach.

Now first of all, I think one of the most pointless jobs in basketball is the coach of a playground all-star team. I’ve seen everybody from Rafer Alston to Rufus from 148th Street fill the role, and there’s really nothing to it. I’m not saying they can’t coach, it’s just that especially in an all-star setting, they don’t have to coach. Besides making subs — and even those can be handled by players on their own if need be — all the coaches do in games like these is occaisonally yell “Ay!” and “D up!” and “Let’s go!”

Anyway, at some point in the third quarter, T-Will was out of the game when he got into it with the East head coach for some unknown reason. Williams stewed on the bench for a minute, then stood up and yelled “Y’all suck at coaching!” (or maybe it was “Y’all suck as coaches!”) before putting on a t-shirt and reclining in his chair with his legs crossed. For all intents and purposes he looked like he’d decided to call it a day, ignoring team huddles during timeouts and staring at the action on the court like a fan more than a player. And while I can’t read lips very well, I saw the East head coach tell one of the assistants something along the lines that T-Will was dead to him.

By the beginning of the fourth quarter, Williams had moved away from the bench entirely and was now sitting along the baseline next to some members of the standing-room only crowd. But then about midway through the quarter, with the East lead shrinking and the West making a comeback, T-Will and the coach apparently patched things up and he re-entered the game. From there, Williams helped seal the W playing a point-forward role many thought he’d master when he was a lottery pick in the NBA Draft three years ago.

The Jamal Crawford Pro Am runs every weekend through the end of August, but the All-Star Game was likely its most star-studded event of the summer. (Though you never know when Brandon Roy, Rodney Stuckey, Martell Webster, Marvin Williams, Nate Robinson or even Shawn Kemp might show up at Rainier Vista.) With six active NBA players on the court, it was another welcome taste of pro basketball at its highest level for a city that is hungry for the sport.

The question remains, though: Was this an appetizer for the NBA, or just a one-time treat?

Does the Seattle/Northwest area produce the best basketball talent?

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