Even in this vibrant basketball community, the Jamal Crawford Pro-Am is a secret treasure. It was born that way. Long before Crawford attached his name and resources to it, Doug Christie created the league in 1996 and billed it the “All Hoop, No Hype” league.
It isn’t about publicity. It’s about competition. It’s about the best players from the city at almost every level — high school, college and pro — helping each other grow and continuing Seattle’s hoops tradition.
You don’t go to this Pro-Am to stalk stars. You go to watch serious summer basketball that happens to include big names. It’s an important distinction, and that’s why the league is usually discussed through social media, word of mouth or email chains instead of the mass media.
“I want it to be like the old ‘MTV Unplugged,’ where you’re at a small venue, and there’s an intimate feel, and everybody is really involved in creating the atmosphere,” Crawford said.
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Crawford sees the art in basketball. It’s no surprise given his flashy style on the court. But don’t mistake his game for a lack of seriousness about the sport. He’s as particular as any artist, and if you want proof, check him out this summer.
Despite its desire to remain low key, the Pro-Am has moved to a bigger venue this summer. It’s no longer at the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club. The 2,650-seat Brougham Pavilion at Seattle Pacific is the new site. There’s still an intimate feel, but there’s an opportunity to grow the league and its fan base.
The league began last weekend and runs through Aug. 31. It features homegrown NBA stars such as Crawford, Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, Spencer Hawes, Isaiah Thomas and Tony Wroten Jr. But Crawford is adding more sizzle to the league by including more special guests than normal throughout the summer.
The list includes NBA superstars Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. In addition, LaMarcus Aldridge, John Wall and Brandon Jennings also have committed to spending a weekend in Seattle.
Here’s the catch, though: These appearances will mostly go unannounced. Crawford says he may send word a few days in advance, but there will be no great buildup to the arrival of these guest stars. It’s consistent with the league’s “All Hoop, No Hype” roots.
“I’ll make sure I tell you a lot closer to the date,” Crawford said, “but while we want this league to be great for the city and for people to come out and support us, we want to make sure our loyal fans, who come and watch regardless of where we are and whether any NBA players are playing, are able to get in and get seats.”
If you love basketball, you could be in for a random treat. If you love events, well, this isn’t the league for you.
Last weekend, the thrills ranged from Wroten scoring 42 points to Lakeside School senior-to-be Tramaine Isabell scoring 31 against the big boys. The legend of this league includes tales such as Isaiah Thomas’ 64-point game last season and a time when, at Rainier Vista, Crawford shot a three-pointer and ran to the concession stand before the ball splashed through the hoop.
In general, the eight-team league features one current NBA player per team. So, for the best talent, the gold standard is to make teammates better. And dispersing the talent that way creates the competitive atmosphere.
“It’s always fun, no matter who plays,” Robinson said. “It’s always competitive. We’ve spent all of these years playing against each other and watching each other grow as young men. We really stick together and push each other to be successful.”
Joked Rob Brown, one of the Pro-Am coaches: “You may see some of your favorite players play harder in this league than they do in the NBA and college. That’s how much is on the line to them.”
Crawford can remember when Christie ran the league. Crawford was a junior in high school back then, and the young magician from Rainier Beach lit up when he was invited to play with the pros.
“I was one of only two juniors who got to play — me and Doug Wrenn,” said Crawford, 33, thinking back about 16 years. “I played against all kinds of local NBA players, including Shawn Kemp. That’s when I knew I could play. That’s when I said, ‘OK, I can do this.’ ”
Sixteen years later, Crawford is one of the great pros, and Isabell is one of the great aspiring talents who gets to measure himself against the best.
All Hoop, No Hype.
Well, more hype than usual.
The league must evolve because, without question, the players continue to do so.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JerryBrewer