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.