Q&A: Jamal Crawford, born for this
He's one of only four players in NBA history to receive the Sixth Man of the Year award twice (and before he retires he'll probably be the only player in history to win three.) The others? Kevin McHale, Ricky Pierce and Detlef Schrempf. And he's the only one to do it with two different teams.
He's one of only four players ever to have 50-point games for three different teams. The others? Moses Malone, Bernard King and Wilt Chamberlain. He's eighth all time in 3-pointers made and the all-time leader in four-point plays.
If he keeps up his current pace, he'll go down as the only player in NBA history to have accumulated 20,000 career points and never played in an All-Star Game. (He's 22nd among active players on the career scoring list.)
Right now, he is second in the league in fourth-quarter scoring, behind only Damian Lillard. Wilson Chandler called him the "Jadakiss of the NBA." Meaning: "Everybody knows he's nice but never gets the proper recognition."
Jamal Crawford, 34, doesn't trip on any of this. Unfazed by the reality that his whole career has been lost in our translation. With his nongovernment name being JCrossover, he was once asked if, after embarrassing so many opponents over the years, he has ever had his "ankles broken"? His response: "I don't play enough defense to get crossed like that."
Gotta love specialists.
Scoop: I thought about you during the Super Bowl because you are one of the few people I know that had a true vested interest in both sides. Tom Brady is your guy because you all went to Michigan together, at the same time you are from Seattle. So was the Super Bowl a win-win for you or a lose-lose?
Crawford: A lose-lose. Obviously I went to school with Tom, we had training table together every single day, basketball [team] and football [team] did. He was always quiet, cool but quiet. We used to get into good conversations ...
Scoop: And I still remember you back in the day walking around in your Tom Brady jersey.
Crawford: Ha, yeah. But for the most part, I was going for Seattle. Seattle is home, that's first and foremost. That's why it was a lose-lose for me. I was devastated. I couldn't believe it. I was sick. Sick to my stomach. It was a classic game and we had it! We have the best back in the league ... we have three chances with 30 seconds left, I know we're going to give it to him ... and we have to take time off of the clock ...
Scoop: ... to make sure Brady has as little time as possible to do anything ...
Crawford: Man ... I ... honestly, they are going to say what they say, but I'm not sure I'll ever fully understand that one. I guess that's why I'm just a fan.
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCrawford says the pain from losing to OKC in last year's playoffs will help the Clippers this time around.
Scoop: Look, I had the Clippers winning it all last year. Now I understand the role all of the drama (Donald Sterling, etc.) played in the reality of that not happening. To me, you all deserve a pass. Because of that, I felt it only fair to roll with the Clips one more time. But I need you to tell me, once the playoffs start, outside of any unforeseen season-altering distractions, what's going to be different this year?
Crawford: Honestly, I think another year together, that only helps. I think another year under Doc's system helps. I think now the pain of how we lost last year and what we went through, that pain will fuel us when it's time. I know, because of that, coming into this season everyone expected us to be like world beaters and come out and go 60-22.
I think people were down on us to start the season and now are like, "OK, they are coming," but we've had the same record as last year pretty much this whole season. So honestly, for us, I think even if we did go 65-17 people would still be like, "OK, but we need to see what they are going to do in the playoffs." We've graduated to that, to being one of those teams where people are like, "OK, they've won 17 [games] in a row, they've won 60 games, now what are they gonna do when it counts?" We've graduated to being one of those teams that is going to be judged by our playoff success.
So that's what it's going to come down to. And we feel when we are right, we can play with anybody. Anybody, East, West, it doesn't matter. Obviously all roads have to go through San Antonio until someone knocks them off, but to us, we feel when we're rolling at our best and any other team is at their best, we feel we are right there with whomever.
Scoop: What is the Clippers' biggest asset as a team?
Crawford: I think it's us having multiple playmakers. I think a lot of teams only have one, maybe two players that when things get really tight they can go to. I think we have more than that. We have Chris [Paul] who can obviously make magic happen. I feel I can do something at any time. I feel Blake [Griffin] can do something at any time. I feel J.J. [Redick] and Matt [Barnes] can hit shots at any time. I just think we have multiple ways to get you, and that is difficult for teams to contend with.
"I think now the pain of how we lost last year and what we went through, that pain will fuel us when it's time."-- Jamal Crawford
Scoop: What about the greatest flaw?
Crawford: Honestly, at times I think we get a little complacent and we play to the level of our competition. That's why you'll see us and we'll go and beat a Utah team on their home court, then go lose to New Orleans, and that Utah team will beat Golden State the next night. Then we'll go beat San Antonio by 20 on their court, then we'll lose to Brooklyn. You know what I'm saying? We'll show against the best [that] we can be one of the best, then we'll also show that we do play to the level of our competition. And you can't mess with the game like that.
Scoop: Now apply it to the playoffs. What do you feel your biggest flaw is in a playoff series where there is no shift or change in the level of competition?
Crawford: I think for us it's mental toughness. We gotta be able to take one punch, two punches, maybe three punches and get up and come back, come back with that same fire, that same focus. I think that's our last step. It's the toughest step, but I think it's the last step for us.
Scoop: I would have to agree with that. Because from the outside looking in, it seems that time and time again, the mental lock-in seems to disappear come playoffs.
Scoop: But I feel it's one of those humps that you all can get over.
Crawford: Yeah, I do too. I honestly believe that. I mean, shoot, think about how things went last year: We're only a game and one minute away from the Western [Conference] finals. We were right there. But it wasn't in the cards for us. But this year, I think the pain of last year will make us better because of what we went through.
Scoop: Is Golden State like a blessing in disguise for you all, in that they are playing so well that it's almost like they've taken the focus off of you all? Almost like you all can become the dark horse in this?
Crawford: Yeah! It really is like we're now the dark horse. I mean, for real, and this is not a shot at Golden State or anything, but don't forget we played them last year. Other people tend to forget that. But you have to tip your hat to them because they came out with fire. They're playing with that same pain and same edge, and they came out and have been playing like it. Consistently this year they've been the best team in basketball.
But we'll see what's what when it comes down to it. But they definitely have taken some of the light off of us a little bit, and I think that has helped a little bit because people aren't talking about us anymore, which gives us a chance to work on what we need to work on, and when that time comes, be ready.
Andrew Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe way Crawford sees it, he was born to play basketball and doesn't plan to stop any time soon.
Scoop: I was riding home with my son earlier and I told him that I was going to be talking to you and he said, "Every team in the NBA wants a Jamal Crawford." You get a lot of love, but it never seems like it comes from the right people in the right places.
Crawford: Man, Scoop, my career has been so unique if you look at it for real. I mean, in a short synopsis, I was 19 years old in Chicago. I played there four years. And then I felt like I grew up from 23 to 28, and that's when I'm in New York, and we're rebuilding again, just like they were in Chicago after the Jordan years there. And just when we're starting to figure it out in New York, they trade Zach Randolph and I on the same day! Now we're both averaging 20 (PPG), but they trade us to free up money for the 2010 free agency because that's when everyone was trying to get a LeBron or a D-Wade. Remember, everyone figured they needed a big, big superstar name.
From there I go to Golden State, average 20. And Monta [Ellis] is coming off of the moped accident, so when he came back, [coach] Don Nelson was like, "Well you guys are too similar," and then I go to Atlanta, won Sixth Man of the Year, but at that point their core was already tied up. They'd signed Joe Johnson to $123 million, they gave Al Horford $60 [million], Josh Smith, Marvin [Williams] and Mike [Bibby] were already signed, so they didn't have any money.
So then I go to Portland. And I'm thinking my man (Brandon Roy) just retired so they're gonna need some wing scoring and I start playing point guard. We went from No. 1 in the West in Portland to rebuilding in the same year. You know, it's crazy.
And then I came here [to L.A.] But it's just the whole journey, the whole journey is crazy. The last 12 years I've averaged over 17 points and four assists, and I've only had one coach in back-to-back years only twice in my career. You know what I'm saying? Crazy.
Scoop: And never played in a midseason classic.
Crawford: Yeah, it's been all of these different things, like now being eighth all time in 3-pointers, almost one of the 100 top scorers that ever played the game but never that All-Star status or a championship.
"I watch League Pass every second. I'm on HoopsHype, I'm on ESPN, I can tell you about whosever's game you want to know about. Because I breathe it. I loved basketball before I loved anything else.
"-- Jamal Crawford
Scoop: My son also said that to laminate your career, for your career to stand for something, "Jamal has to either get into the Hall of Fame or get a ring." So I'm asking you, which one would you choose if only one could happen for you -- winning a championship or Hall of Fame?
Crawford: Ugh, that's tough. It's easier to say getting a ring or being an All-Star. I'd say getting a ring all day. But ... ugh. That's deep. I'll still take getting a ring. Because at the end of the day, I really believe I have my peers' respect, I think I've always had [their] respect. From every player that I've played against to the younger generation coming up, you know what I mean? How I used to look at [Allen] Iverson and Nick Van Exel and all of those guys, I feel like for the younger guys -- I'm not those guys, I'm not on AI's or Nick's level obviously -- but I think they view me in a similar-type fashion.
My top three players ever, my all-time favorite players ever, are Isiah [Thomas], Magic [Johnson] and Michael [Jordan]. At one point or another they've all said that they love my game, so getting that recognition and the recognition from my peers is enough for me. But it is crazy, for sure.
Scoop: Do you remember us flying back together the day after you got drafted?
Crawford: Yeah, we flew to Chicago together. I think we came from Minnesota.
Scoop: Yep, now on that plane ride did you have any thought that your career would turn out the way that it has?
Crawford: No, not at all. Because when I was growing up watching the NBA, you remember, teams would stay together nine, 10 years. You could identify players with teams. You could identify the Lakers with Magic and [James] Worthy and Byron Scott and Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar]. You could identify the Celtics because they had [Larry] Bird, McHale and [Robert] Parish and Dennis Johnson. Those guys would be there for eight, nine, 10 years.
The way the league is now, there's contract structure, so there's always going to be change. If you are with a team for three, four years, it's like: "Oh you've been there for a while. Now it's time to go somewhere else." So the way my career has gone, naw, I never could have envisioned this.
Think about it: I never played in the rookie/sophomore game, I never was an All-Star, I never have been to the Finals -- yet. You know, things like that, I thought on that plane ride that might have happened to me. But who would have thought 15 years into my career I'd still be playing at this level as well? You know what I mean? [Laughs] So I wouldn't have guessed any of this.
Scoop: What is your definition of a prodigy? And I'll explain why I asked that after your answer.
Crawford: OK. A prodigy to me is someone that is enormously gifted at a young age -- to the point that people can't deny it. I think when you are a young kid and you are a prodigy, other parents, when their child is on your team, they aren't even mad that their kid isn't getting the shine because that other kid is special. Something that is noticed at a young age. When the kid knows it and understands it and everyone else around him knows and understands it as well.
Scoop: OK, the reason I asked you that is because, and I've been saying this for a few years now, I honestly believe there are only three prodigies in the NBA: You, Kyrie [Irving] and Steph [Curry]. But not by the definition that you just gave. I understand how prodigies are always associated with age, but to me, I'm basing mine on my belief that you three were put here on this planet to do what you all do. You all were put here to play basketball. Like that is your gift to us because of the things you do and the ease with which the game seems to come to you all. It's something different with you three to me. It's prodigious, almost like you all were literally born to do this. It's hard to explain but ..
Crawford: I don't mean to cut you off, but you wanna know something funny? Chauncey Billups said that, and he used those same three names. He didn't say prodigy, but he said, "There's only three people I've ever seen that play the playoffs or Game 7 the way they would LA Fitness' open gym." And you can ask him if you get a chance to. I can't believe you said that, because that's basically the same thing he's saying, just in a different way. And that's crazy because I think those other two are special. Special in a way that, if you can handle the ball like that, like they do, and you can shoot like that in the NBA with no handchecking, you are unguardable. There's literally no way to guard you. If they miss a shot it's because they missed a shot, there's nothing a defender did. They can get any shot that they want, do anything on the court they want. But I think I'd give you one more like that. Maybe, [Kevin] Durant.
Scoop: Yeah, maybe. But I don't put him in you all's category because I can imagine him doing something else. Maybe it's me, but I can't imagine you doing anything else.
Crawford: Yeah, naw, naw, naw. I was born to play basketball. There's no question about it. That's it. And I'm saying this in my humblest opinion, I do feel that I was born to play this game. I breathe it, I live it. Like [Wednesday], I went to the Knicks game. Just to watch. In person. What guy in his 15th year in the league is still doing that?
I watch League Pass every second. I'm on HoopsHype, I'm on ESPN, I can tell you about whosever's game you want to know about. Because I breathe it. I loved basketball before I loved anything else. Before I had kids or a wife or friends, it was just me and my basketball. Two years old. I remember when I was 8 years old when I first started playing organized basketball, and the coaches had the kids in single file doing two-line layups and they were struggling to get the ball up there. Me, I'm doing reverse cradle layups with the backhand spins on it, like, jump from the right side and lay it up on the left side backwards. And the kids and coaches are looking at me like, "Who are you?" It was a weird thing. But I got it though, I understood it early.
Scoop: See, prodigy. So you've never thought of yourself ever doing anything else in your life?
Crawford: No. Never. Nothing else. Even when I retire in 10 years or whatever, I'll still be playing at an LA Fitness somewhere.