Essays — July 1, 2019 13:53 — 0 Comments

Inspiring Hoops In Seattle

Below is a story that appeared in Alaska Beyond magazine in July 2019

Seattle native and 19-year NBA veteran Jamal Crawford grew up with a basketball in his hands. By the time he was 8 years old, he says, he was already hitting reverse layups while other kids struggled with the basics.

Yet the sport that shaped Crawford’s life might not have done so had it not been for an experience he had in a professional-amateur league in Seattle. To this day, the pro-am now led by Crawford and called The Crawsover allows Seattle-area fans to see top talent up close. Slated to run this year on select dates from July 6 through August 25, the league’s competition series, held at Royal Brougham Pavilion at Seattle Pacific University, pits teams against one another in a set of games that culminate in playoffs and a championship final. While the teams are mostly composed of former standout high school and college players, pros such as NBA All-Stars Chris Paul and Kevin Durant have participated in the past (pros play individual games when available). This means that amateurs get to play with and against some of basketball’s top stars as Crawford first did in 1996, at age 16.

“I played against pros and had success,” Crawford remembers. “That gave me confidence that I could play at a high level.”

Crawford, now 39, closed out his 2019 professional season with the Phoenix Suns by scoring 51 points in the final game, coming off the bench. In doing so, the 6’5″ shooting guard became the oldest NBA player to score more than 50 in a game (surpassing Michael Jordan, who scored more than 50 at age 38). It’s just one of the highlights in a distinguished NBA career that has seen Crawford play 1,326 games for eight teams, make 2,220 three-point field goals, score 19,414 career points and win the Sixth Man of the Year Award three times.

Amid all of this success, Crawford has always remembered his Northwest roots. He won a state championship with Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School in 1998, and today he sees The Crawsover as one way to give back to his hometown community. (He also participates in other community activities and has provided experiences and resources through his philanthropic foundation.) In 2004, Crawford took over running the pro-am from Doug Christie, another former Seattle-area standout who had a lengthy NBA career.

“When it came time to take over the league, I said I would be honored to do so,” Crawford recalls. “I knew what it meant to me and how important it was to the area.”

Seattle lost its NBA team, the SuperSonics, in 2008, but local passion for the sport remains high. And The Crawsover, which does not charge for tickets, helps to fill a local need to see high-level competition and inspire area youths (who may even have a chance to play, as Crawford did in 1996).

“Some kids in the area have never seen NBA basketball in person,” Crawford says. “They have only seen it in videogames and on ESPN’s SportsCenter. I think seeing guys such as [NBA All-Stars] Kyrie Irving and Paul George up close and for free is important.”

Crawford remembers one day in 2014 when Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant stopped by the pro-am. Bryant, in town for an annual softball game run by then Seattle Seahawks player Richard Sherman, came to The Crawsover and ended up staying longer than anyone expected (to view the competition from the sidelines).

“Kobe delayed his plane and brought his whole family over to watch,” Crawford says. “I give him kudos for that.”

The opportunity for fans to see Crawford and other professionals play is certainly noteworthy. But the annual competition series isn’t about him or any other single player, Crawford says. Rather, it’s about sharing in the love of the game as a community and remembering to keep basketball thriving in the Emerald City for years to come.

“It’s important that we continue to keep pushing this forward,” Crawford says. “Seattle is special and Washington is special because we all support each other. We need to support the next generation, too.”

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Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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