Tori Crawford is torn.
For the first time, her husband Jamal is home for the holidays with their three young kids and she’s feeling a little bit guilty because it feels so good having the family together at the expense of his illustrious NBA career.
During their 13-year relationship, they always celebrated Christmas away from Seattle at hotels or basketball games while Crawford toiled in the league from 2000 to 2019 with eight different teams.
But when the 19-year journeyman didn’t land with a team at the start of the NBA season, he suddenly had time to do the things he’s always wanted to do.
Recently, Crawford and his 6-year-old daughter, London, attended a dance at her school together. He’s been spending an inordinate amount of time on the court coaching his 9-year-old son JJ, who is developing into a basketball prodigy.
And last week, the Crawford clan spent an evening distributing toys to nearly 100 kids at Emerson Elementary with the assistance of the Christian humanitarian organization World Vision and the Rotary Boys and Girls Club.
“This is me,” said Crawford, who stood tall in the middle of the room and beamed with delight while wearing a furry red and white Santa hat. “This is what I’m all about.
“When I was younger, I used to always think making it to the NBA would be the coolest thing in the world. I’d dream about it every day. But as you progress and you attain that goal, then you realize the coolest thing is the effect you can have on people, and kids especially. For me this is like the coolest thing.”
That’s why Tori is torn.
She knows her husband loves helping others and she loves how her family has become ingrained in his charitable acts.
But she also knows, Crawford is clamoring to resume his professional career.
“I feel like I’m right in the middle,” she said. “I obviously want him to do what his passion is until he can not do it anymore, but at the same time, every time his agent calls I’m like, ‘Oh, no, is this the time? Is this the day he goes back to the NBA?’
“This would be the second year that we would be apart. Every year we’d go where he goes. When he was in L.A., we were there for six years. When he got traded to Minnesota, we moved to Minnesota. Then when he went to Phoenix (last season) and we were like, ‘OK we’ll stay home this time.’ So yeah, I’m on the fence.”
However, Crawford, who turns 40 in March, is unequivocal about his desires to reclaim his NBA dream.
“I’m not retired,” he said adamantly. “But I am enjoying this time with my family. … So I’m looking at it like the glass is half full because I’m able to do things that I wouldn’t have been able to do.”
Still, Crawford, the first three-time winner of the NBA Sixth Man of the Year (2010, ’14 and ’16), said he believes he can help a team in a mentoring role and as a scorer off the bench.
The 6-foot-5 shooting guard has tallied 19,414 points in 1,326 games and ranks 53rd on the NBA’s career scoring list ahead of Hall of Famers Scottie Pippen, Isiah Thomas and Julius Erving.
During 64 games off the bench last season with Phoenix, Crawford averaged just 7.9 points, which was the lowest since his rookie season and nearly half of his 14.6 career scoring average.
However, he averaged 31.6 points last April – the highest scoring month of his career – with the Suns during a four-game stretch.
Furthermore, Crawford made history in the season finale – and possibly the final game of his career – by scoring 51 points on 18-of-30 shooting in 38 minutes off the bench during a 120-109 defeat at Dallas on April 9, 2019.
Crawford became the oldest player to score at least 50 points, and the only player in league history to score at least 50 for four different teams. And he’s the only player to score 50 as a reserve.
It would be a fitting sendoff for arguably the NBA’s greatest bench player, but Crawford is the consummate gym rat who works out daily in anticipation of another chance to get back into the league.
“I’m not bitter,” Crawford said. “But I’m not in full reflective mode either. Still, at times I stop and I’m like wow. You had a commercial with Jay-Z and Michael Jordan. You had your own shoe. There’s some really cool things that have happened along this journey that I don’t normally get a chance to think about.
“So, either way, I can’t lose because either I’m going back to play in the NBA or I’m going to be here with my family.”
At heart, the former Rainier Beach High star is a giver whose charitable acts is folklore in Seattle. He’s literally given away the shoes on his feet to strangers so many times that friends are no longer surprised when he does it.
“That’s the way I was raised,” Crawford said. “I was always a giver by nature. I wanted to make sure the person next to me or maybe even the person I don’t know didn’t go without if I could help it. That’s always been in me.
“The NBA makes you become a bigger version of what you already were. If you were somebody who was not so nice and you came into a lot of money and fame, then you’re probably going to abuse that in the wrong way. But if you come into those things and you were doing the right things, then chances are you’re going to do more of the right things. And for me that’s what it’s been about.”
Barring a return to the NBA, the question remains: What’s next for Crawford?
Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens tabbed him to be the next Lenny Wilkens, which is to say Crawford can have an immense impact on Seattle’s philanthropic community much like the former Sonics great.
“The sky is the limit for that guy and he could do whatever he wants to do,” Rotary athletic director Darryl Hennings said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran for mayor or something like that.
“He’s the Pied Piper. Any and everybody will follow him because he just has that personality. He’s genuine and wants to do things for his community, for kids and adults. He wants to do for people. He gets a kick out of it. He stands back and smiles about it. That’s his deal.”
Tori Crawford envisions her husband pursuing a career in broadcasting, coaching or possibly leading the return of the Sonics to Seattle.
“I honestly don’t know,” she said. “I know definitely giving back to the community will be a No. 1 priority. … He can do anything he wants to do.”
Crawford echoed those sentiments.
“I’m into people, especially kids and making sure they have a fair shake and making sure they reach their potential,” he said. “So that’s important to me. So maybe working with kids in some way.
“I’ll be around the game, but I think I’ll be more involved with the community because now I’ll have more time to put my energies toward that and go from there. It’s kind of exciting because anything and everything is possible.”