Defining Jamal Crawford's NBA Career Is More Difficult Every Passing Year
October 9, 2014
By Fred Katz , Featured Columnist
Personality is easy to find on a basketball court. And when you have a performer like Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, it isn't hard to see why.
Basketball is a sport in which athletes can display charisma unlike any other. Because of that, it's natural to guess what NBA players are like outside of the game.
We watch Nick Young chuck up shots or prematurely celebrate misses, and we're not surprised to find he's a goofball in real life, too. We see Tim Duncan exude deliberateness, and we realize it's perfectly in line with his reserved, non-basketball demeanor. We witness Kobe put the "smush" in "Smush" Parker, and we then know he brings such intensity all the time.
That's what makes Crawford's game such an anomaly.
Constant chucking, showy crossovers, more shiftiness than an all-caps keyboard and general flash would lead you to believe Crawford acts that way in everyday life. But it isn't so, and anyone in basketball will tell you the reigning Sixth Man of the Year is one of the calmest and nicest guys in the league.
Want to break the ice with the man who goes by J-Crossover? Just bring up Seattle hoops, and he'll carry on with you about his hometown's streetball scene.
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
The state of Washington tends to produce players in the Crawford mold: confident gunners. Guys like Nate Robinson, Isaiah Thomas, Jason Terry and Aaron Brooks all became shoot-first, instant offense guards in their careers. And Crawford is surely that, though he hasn't always been categorized that way.
In actuality, he hasn't changed all that much over 14 years. Perception, though, has.
Crawford has gone from point guard to ball hog to gunner to losing player to scorer to good-stats-on-a-bad-team guy to instant-offense spark plug to essential piece on a title contender. Has anyone ever duplicated that career?
Save maybe Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson, who became a prominent player coming off the Detroit Pistons' bench in the 1980s and early '90s, it's hard to find anyone who has done exactly what Crawford has. And that doesn't make him an all-time great; it simply frames his career as something we've never quite seen before.
It becomes increasingly unforgivable that Crawford doesn't have a "Microwave"-level nickname. Maybe it's just too hard to find a proper noun that emanates the same light beams as his dribbling. And, no, popularizing "J-Crossover" with a Twitter handle does not come close.
Crawford, however, has an on-the-court handle that's well earned. It's part of what makes him a specimen unduplicated in any other part of the basketball world.
If you don't know what I mean, reference this:
We could do this all day. Crawford crossovers are like pimples on a prepubescent boy: They're everywhere and awfully humiliating when they happen to you.
He's been doing this forever. We have 14 years of highlights, and it doesn't seem like it's ending any time soon.
Crawford is an upper-echelon athlete, but he doesn't possess the style of above-the-rim power his teammate Blake Griffin does. No, Crawford is more of a slithery type, almost like a frog that slips through your palms as you clasp them together. He holds a more sustainable type of athleticism, and because of that distinction, current 34-year-old Jamal Crawford and rookie 20-year-old Jamal Crawford seem to have the same physical capabilities.
Seriously, does Crawford look a day older now than he did when he first entered the league with the Chicago Bulls in 2000?
It certainly feels like the most-exciting-sixth-man-in-the-game moniker will stick with Crawford forever, that once he's gone, we'll remember the flashiness over all else.
Go through the list. Is there anyone else who could put a face on the four-point play?
You could say it's one of the two-time Sixth Man of the Year's best accomplishments: holding the record for most four-point plays in a career, a season, a game, a half and a quarter.
Yes, that's real.
No one slyly pokes out a leg as a defender closes out quite like Crawford. And more importantly, few can make off-balance, twirling, Baryshnikovian shots in the way the former Michigan Wolverine does.
Crawford has 44 career four-point plays. Second on that list? Reggie Miller...with only 23. Is there anything else that is so incredibly Jamal Crawford?
His name has turned adjectival. It's a verb, too. To Jamal Crawford someone is to break their ankles. It's not anything you'd wish on your worst enemy. Or maybe you would, but Crawford wouldn't. Yet, he does it anyway.
And that's the irony of Crawford's career: Flashiness often concocts criticism in the general public, but for the guy who has been the NBA's resident flashlight for more than a decade, praise has become louder than disparagement.
The Nick Youngs of the world, the J.R. Smiths, those guys hear it all the time.
They shoot too much. They're poor decision-makers. They stall an offense with all their dribbling.
Crawford used to deal with that. It started to change when then Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Woodson permanently moved him to the bench for the 2009-10 season. The chaos and improvisational aspect of the reserve unit fit Crawford perfectly, the Hawks won 53 games, and J-Crossover eventually took home Sixth Man of the Year honors for the first time.
With that, reputation began to shift. But it wasn't just because of the award. After all, Smith earned the same accolade a couple seasons ago and remains the target of the same jabs he received before winning.
So, maybe the understated, off-court Crawford persona has more of an impact on Jamal's legacy than we realize. Maybe those who frame him differently than they do Young and Smith do it because they want to like him. In the end, this is somewhat of a right-place-in-the-right-time situation.
What if Crawford had the unfortunate circumstances of never getting to play for a good team? Would he still be America's sixth man? Or would he just be another good-stats-on-a-bad-team guy?
Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press
There's no way to answer that hypothetical. But what we do know is that Crawford is an edge-of-your-seat guy, holding this uncanny ability to get an entire room to scoot toward the rim of the couch waiting to react every time he goes through his legs. But reactions could go in opposite directions.
With some edge-of-your-seat guys, their legacy becomes the cringe after a behind the back bounce, which leads to a contested clank.
With others, legacy is the cheer after actually sinking such an impossible shot.
Crawford's biggest critics—who surely still exist—remember the cringe. What makes Crawford unique though is that the majority of people recognize him most for the actions before the viewer reactions.
We don't know him for the bad or the good. We just know him because he always has us ready to jump, and whether we end up forming our sourest lemon faces or seeing the best four-point play in history, the anticipation as we almost fall out of our chairs is what sticks in our minds.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at