The Home Team, tight-knit players from Seattle who played in the NBA, are passing lessons in life and basketball to a younger generation.
For every player, there is a mentor.
For every local basketball product, there is a guy or group helping along the way.
For every teenager who grows up to showcase his talents in NBA arenas across the country, there is someone who has been there before to take the player under his wing.
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Since Michael Dickerson, Jason Terry and Jamal Crawford were drafted between 1998 and 2000, the Seattle area has produced NBA players at a rate that rivals any place in the country. They cracked the door to what became Seattle’s basketball renaissance.
But to foster the kind of basketball boom Seattle is experiencing — 15 players from Western Washington spent time in the NBA last season — the first wave had to show a younger generation how to carry themselves as players and people. Seattle may have lost the Sonics, but this region’s rich basketball tradition thrives through a group that calls itself The Home Team.
“After me, it seemed like the door kind of kicked open,” said Crawford, who was drafted in 2000 and now plays for the Atlanta Hawks. “I think they (Dickerson, Terry and Doug Christie) opened the door a little bit, or they left a crack in it, and then I kind of opened it and then everybody just came running through.”
Growing up in Seattle’s basketball community is like being initiated into a fraternity. The older members of the group reach out to younger guys. They tutor and motivate. Passing down the lessons learned is a responsibility shared by local players.
It is an unofficial mentoring program, a social network stretching from local high schools and AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) teams, to universities, the NBA and all the way to European pro leagues.
Those accepted into this basketball fraternity become members of The Home Team.
“We’re pretty much all best friends and a crew,” said Will Conroy, a point guard who played at Garfield and Washington. “We hang out and look out for each other the whole time. That’s the Seattle homegrown thing. It’s pretty good. They say Seattle’s a hotbed right now.”
All it takes is an opportunity
A door to the Rainier Beach High School gym opens, letting in the bright sunlight of a late July afternoon. Jamal Crawford steps through, wearing a white, V-neck T-shirt, Atlanta Hawks shorts and a pair of Nikes.
The 6-foot-5 Crawford has come a long way since he led the Vikings to the 1998 state championship. Now 30, he is the NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year as the league’s top reserve, a gifted scorer with a killer crossover dribble.
Every summer The Home Team converges on Seattle for camps, the Hood Classic and the Seattle Summer Pro-Am.
Crawford stands on the court that carries his name. The veteran of 10 professional seasons considers his role in the community to be as important as his impact on the basketball floor.
“For me, it’s always been about helping those guys, like people helped me,” said Crawford, who still keeps all his watches set to Pacific time. “It’s not always about giving back monetarily, it’s just with time and energy and advice and just being there.”
When Crawford was 17, Seattle native Doug Christie asked the teenager to play on his team in the Seattle Summer Pro-Am league. By putting Crawford on his team, an NBA veteran showed a skinny high-school kid that his basketball future could be more than a dream.
Crawford was nervous back then. Older players intimidated him. He wasn’t used to getting pushed around.
Then Christie injured his ankle, and Crawford was forced to take charge of the team. Crawford led the league in scoring the rest of the summer.
“It made it that much more real to me, and it made me work that much harder, because it wasn’t just a fantasy or something I could see on TV. I could actually reach out and touch it,” said Crawford, who has since taken over the Pro-Am and runs it out of the Rainier Beach gym.
Mike Bethea, Crawford’s coach at Rainier Beach, always sensed there was something special about his protégé.
“You just can’t help but follow that guy,” said Bethea, sitting on a stool in the gym, his back braced against the wall and his grandchildren running around the court.
Bethea and Crawford would sit and talk about the future. Crawford vowed to one day build something positive in the community.
Today, Crawford has spent $100,000 on renovations to the Rainier Beach gym and more than $15,000 on heart defibrillators for Seattle Public Schools, along with other charitable contributions to causes through the Jamal Crawford Foundation.
And if Bethea needs someone to sit down with one of his players, he brings in Crawford, The Home Team’s elder statesman.
“Most guys, when you reach that level of status that he’s at, your priorities change and you’ve got other things on your plate,” Bethea said. “It kind of takes a back seat … . But with him, it never has.”
Every member of The Home Team seems to have a story about the impact Crawford has had on their lives.
“He was the first one to do it, but it’s his character — his spirit is beautiful,” said Boston Celtics high-energy guard Nate Robinson, while taking a break at his summer basketball camp on Mercer Island. “He’s a people person and he’s very respectful. He talks to you like you’re supposed to. He’s like the big brother. He calls and checks on me, asks if my mom’s OK, my kids. It goes a long way.”
Spencer Hawes remembers Crawford inviting him to play in a tournament at Rucker Park, a famous playground basketball court in New York City.
“I was 18,” said Hawes, the former Washington Huskies standout who plays for the Philadelphia 76ers. “I had just graduated from high school. I’m a kid, and for him to stick out his hand and invite me to go back there and show me around New York, it was a great experience basketballwise.”
It’s all about the 206
When Washington coach Lorenzo Romar first arrived in Seattle in the late 1970s to play for the Huskies, people asked him about being from Los Angeles.
Romar was quick to correct.
“I’m from Compton,” he told people, even though Los Angeles was just minutes away.
“That’s what I see here,” Romar said. “These guys are really proud of where they’re from and proud to see each other doing well, and they all get along.”
Whether it’s Tony Wroten shaving “206” into the back of his head, Spencer Hawes getting the Space Needle clipped into his close-cropped hair, or one of the many players with a Seattle-centric tattoo, everyone has a unique way of showing love for his hometown.
For Jamal Crawford it’s a mural of Seattle’s skyline on one wall of the house he keeps locally, and a 206 tattoo on his right arm.
Civic pride in the basketball community is not a concept unique to Seattle. What separates this city is a combination of camaraderie, character and numbers.
“It’s pretty special,” Romar said. “And I think it matches just about any city out there in the country. In terms of their camaraderie and how they pull for one another and their kinship, if you will, being from this area is pretty special.”
Local players who spend the basketball season in NBA cities and abroad return to their hometown in the offseason. They spend time together. Despite having played for rival high schools, the players for The Home Team are all close friends.
After graduating from Rainier Beach, Crawford went away, spending one collegiate season at Michigan before entering the NBA. Yet he spends so much time at Washington during the offseason, it is as if the Huskies adopted him into their basketball family.
A few years ago, during the summer leading up to Brandon Roy’s senior year at Washington, Crawford found himself in a pickup game he’ll never forget. Five players faced off on each team, but Roy and Crawford turned it into a one-on-one battle. The two friends went nose-to-nose, back-and-forth.
They went out for food afterward, but Crawford was too exhausted to eat.
“I was so tired after that,” he said. “We wore each other out.”
Back together each summer, members of The Home Team sit in the gym and swap stories. They playfully argue about which team was better, Crawford’s 1998 Class 3A state-title team or Garfield’s 4A championship club that same year.
They debate teams, players and moments, and sometimes ask their coaches — Bethea, Romar or Franklin’s Jason Kerr — to settle disputes.
“Those arguments,” Conroy said, “they’re never going to end.”
Good players, better people
Jim Marsh points to a framed picture that sits on a bookshelf in the corner of his office in Issaquah.
The teenagers wear Friends of Hoop AAU uniforms. Among these smiling faces are Jon Brockman, Spencer Hawes, Mitch Johnson, Micah Downs and Martell Webster. All played Division I basketball or are now on NBA rosters.
Marsh still cherishes that team. As their coach, he watched the teens grow as players and people.
“In a nutshell, you had players who were not only good, but they were good human beings,” Marsh said. “They extended themselves whenever someone asked them to extend themselves. That’s a great combination.”
As president of Washington State Mentors, a nonprofit organization that supports mentoring programs around the state, Marsh understands the power of the relationship between role models and a younger generation.
“All of a sudden they start playing together, and being a good human being rubs off,” Marsh said.
While coaching the group pictured in his office, Marsh was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He gathered his young players and told them everything would be cool.
For the rest of that summer, Webster kept calling him.
“Hey, how are you doin’, Coach?” the teenager would ask.
Webster wouldn’t let Marsh carry any bags on trips to tournaments.
“There’s just some caring there, and I sense it everywhere I go,” Marsh said.
That sense of caring started when guys like Crawford broke into the NBA and became recognizable figures in the community. It continued with the players Crawford mentored maturing into role models for a younger generation.
“They know that everywhere they go they leave footprints, and they can be good or bad,” Marsh said as he settled into his chair across from the picture of that memorable squad. “The footprints that these kids here in Seattle are leaving are a testament to the older generation having a positive impact on their lives, outside of basketball and certainly in basketball.”
Mason Kelley: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org