Jamal Crawford has been around the block more than a few times but it still feels like the universe is selling his NBA experience short.
“I turned 20 twice, so I don’t know what 40 is feeling like,” he’s joked, but within that joke there is some truth (as there always is in the best jokes).
After all, he entered the league as a rookie when Grizzlies games were still being hosted in Vancouver, the Los Angeles Lakers were looking for the second ring of their eventual three-peat, George W. Bush and Al Gore were duking it out to see who’d be the 43rd President of the United States, Shaggy was still a thing in the billboards, and Stephon Marbury was a New Jersey Net. The World Trade Center towers still stood.
There, now I feel like you get a better idea of how long the three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year winner has been around.
Yeah, he might be the equivalent of a senior citizen in terms of an NBA player’s lifespan, but have you heard about what he did in his last professional basketball game!?
No? Well, buckle up then—this is GOOD. It’s one of the league’s best-kept secrets. Legend has it that as a member of the lowly Phoenix Suns at the very the 2018-19 NBA season, he dropped 51 (!) — okay, I can’t do this anymore — unless you’ve restrained from Twitter activity over the course of the last 16 months, you know damn well what happened on April 9, 2019! It’s not a secret, but it still is a legend. Crawford dropped a 50-piece in what many, including him thought might be his final NBA game.
“Hey, if 51 is the way to go out,” he told Rachel Nichols of ESPN this weekend, “Then God has said that’s the best way I can allow you to go out.”
Actually, an interesting little tidbit here, in the final four games of that season, Crawford averaged 31.3 points and 5.8 assists on 55.1/50.0/95.5 splits. )The other 60 regular-season games he played that season didn’t go as swimmingly—required additional context can be so annoying at times. But hey, we are talking the Suns here.)
“That’s why that last month was so huge,” he told Players Tribune early last month, still sounding stunned —and miffed— that he couldn’t get a job. “Besides the 51-point game off the bench, right? I averaged 31 points the month of April. That’s the highest scoring month of my career. In 19 years! In Knick days, Clipper days!”
But as it turned out, it wasn’t to be his swan song. He wasn’t going to ride off into the sunset as one of the most prolific sixth men in NBA history just yet. There was still some fight left in this dawg. So Crawford waited, patiently, longing for the call of a league executive inquiring about his services.
Bill Russell weighed in!
Ah ha! Here’s an idea, someone please sign @JCrossover and get him out of my kitchen! #getthismanajob @BleacherReport @SLAMonline @NBAonTNT @espn pic.twitter.com/kAOxKlMDd8— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) November 8, 2019
As did former teammates...
!!!! this man had a 50 piece last season. absolutely crazy he’s not on a team https://t.co/j7r28qOgQk— Blake Griffin (@blakegriffin23) November 19, 2019
But as colleagues, bloggers, and analysts alike all advocated for his employment on their favorite social media platform, no such calls came. Reality started to weigh on him.
“After all, you really have to start detaching a little bit,” he told Nichols, describing what it was like when the phone didn’t ring. “Maybe this won’t happen. So you have to start thinking about what’s to come and things you have interests in but it happened and I’m glad to be back.”
Bottom line, as he told Players Tribune, “I think I kinda fall into the category of like, ‘What do we do with him.’”
That is until the Brooklyn Nets called. Warranted they were so depleted that this roster no longer resembled what was thrown out opening day of this NBA season...all those many years ago. It made Crawford the happiest 40-year-old in the entire association (eat your heart out, Udonis Haslem).
“It’s surreal to me. Some days I wake up and I think, ‘am I really back in the NBA?’ Am I really on the Brooklyn Nets?’” Crawford has said. “You go through so many emotions. After all, you really have to start detaching a little bit. Maybe this won’t happen. So you have to start thinking about what’s to come and things you have interests in but it happened and I’m glad to be back.”
Though 30 NBA teams thought he was not the same player as in yesteryear, he would —respectfully— disagree.
“So in my heart of hearts, I’m like ‘I know I’m still the same player.’ I know at this age, you’re not supposed to be the same player. but I know I am,” he told Players Tribune.
Crawford does bring some intriguing intangibles, on and off the court, for the Brooklyn squad.
Having a guy at the tail end of your depth chart who has essentially seen everything imaginable in an NBA career, is loved league-wide, has already made a great impression on the organization and his fellow teammates. THAT does have value.
Take the big brother/little brother relationship between him and Caris LeVert...
The big brother/little brother dynamic happened quickly for @JCrossover and @CarisLeVert.— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) July 29, 2020
New episode of drops this week pic.twitter.com/8dLKwMtg6a
Or the viral video of him and Rodions Kurucs fooling around in Orlando...
Class with Mal is back in session @JCrossover @RODIONS1 pic.twitter.com/wEyDw6pzCD— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) July 24, 2020
And how about the reaction of players around the league (in and out of the NBA, young and old) when he did get the call...
Maaan.. WELCOME BACK fellas ✊ @TheRealJRSmith @JCrossover love y’all boyz!! #Family pic.twitter.com/x0kR07xHL8— Chris Paul (@CP3) July 9, 2020
Hell yeah!!!!! https://t.co/WkamhVI80y— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) July 9, 2020
he’s back @JCrossover https://t.co/dxXNCgrZ2t— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) July 9, 2020
Kevin Durant’s Instagram reaction — simply “the god” — might have been the most economical reaction.
Oh, and then there’s that whole “walking bucket” dynamic that he brings to the table as a shot creator—even at age 40. Which, by the way, is something the current iteration of the team needs in the Orlando “bubble.”
As “BrooklynsBeat” on Twitter mentions, think of Crawford in a similar sense to what Juwan Howard was for the Miami Heat during their Finals runs last decade.
I can see Jamal crawford for Nets next year, being in the role that juwan Howard occupied for the Heatles. End of bench, doesn’t play much, vet leader that everyone on the roster loves— Brooklynsbeat (@brooklynsbeat) July 30, 2020
Or as Billy Reinhardt explains, think of a Dahntay Jones-type...just with a little more dazzle to his game.
Dahntay Jones for Cavs but with more game.— Billy Reinhardt (@BillyReinhardt) July 30, 2020
Thus far, what’s really stood out since the signing of Crawford (since he’s yet to suit up for these “Bubble Nets”) has been the “bromance” forged between fellow Michigan alum, Caris LeVert, and himself.
LeVert had the following to say regarding the signing:
“When I was kid [Crawford] was my favorite player. When I went to Michigan, he reached out and we’ve been big brother/little brother ever since,” Caris LeVert said. “I can’t wait to get him here.”
The big brother/little brother dynamic has already captured the hearts of many Nets fans. The idea of having a 19-year veteran in Caris’ ear, someone who’s experienced the ramped-up intensity of playoff basketball in eight separate seasons, providing guidance and support along
The way is welcoming. Especially someone who has had the success Crawford has had as a sixth man, a role that LeVert has occupied in the past and could see more of in the future.
Jamal’s gassed up LeVert more than once since joining Brooklyn, comparing him to former teammates Joe Johnson and Penny Hardaway.
“I see him...he has a little bit of Penny Hardaway in his game. I think he has Joe Johnson in his game as well. Those are two players that jump out to me”
It’s also worth mentioning that Crawford isn’t just besties with LeVert, oh no, he’s also great friends with both “KD and Ky”. When you have mutual interests, which in this case would be getting buckets at the professional level, I guess friendship just comes with the territory for some.
But though he has friends in high places, and though he’s said all the right things since the signing was announced, he will still have to prove it on the court to secure a place on next year’s roster. The off-court intangibles are just an added bonus if he can prove to be positive in whatever minutes are allocated to him by interim head coach Jacque Vaughn.
He’s yet to suit up for Brooklyn in any of their three scrimmages or their first two games now, but he has gone from “doubtful” to “questionable” before those games. That’s progress, right? For most, it’s been four and a half months since they’ve last played an NBA regular-season game, for Jamal Crawford, it’s been nearly 17 months—Vaughn’s approach to easing him into the lineup makes sense.
Nonetheless, Sean Marks is watching these games closely. It’s an evaluation period to see what he likes in some of the new faces out there, and what he doesn’t. For Jamal Crawford, it’s a shot to prove he still belongs in the league with an organization that he has openly come out and said he “loves.”
“Staying in love with the game, when you stay in love with the game, you’re willing to take cold baths, you’re willing to get acupuncture, you’re willing to stay in shape, you’re willing to do everything that comes along with it,” he told Steve Serby of the Post. “It still feels like I’m living a dream. I’m just gonna enjoy this moment, and enjoy this as long as it lasts, and try and help us to get to these playoffs and make some noise.”
And when he FINALLY dons the Nets jersey?
“It’ll be a dream again because I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. For it to happen, I’m definitely going to have fun with it. “