In part to honor Jim Marsh, a three-on-three hoops tournament was started last year as a fund-raiser for the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation and Mentoring Works Washington. This year, the tournament was combined with a similar tournament at Emerald Downs and will take place Aug. 6-7.
On a summer day in 1989 at the South Seattle Community Center, 9-year-old Jamal Crawford sat transfixed by the man in front of him at the Sonics Jammin’ Hoops Camp. The guy running the camp was a tall, good-natured guy and while it’s likely no kid in the gym had heard of him, he had the attention of every camper there. Not because of what he was saying, but because of what he was wearing. Turns out Mars Blackmon was right.
“It’s gotta be the shoes!”
As Jim Marsh stood in the center of the gym, the kids he was talking to let their eyes wander down to his Michael Jordan shoes. But Crawford and his friends could tell these weren’t the regular Air Jordans that were the rage at the time.
“He had the Michael Jordan shoes on, and they had the ‘23’ on the side and I’m thinking ‘you can’t buy those!’” Crawford said with a laugh.
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Crawford was in awe because the fact that this big man was wearing Air Jordans that couldn’t be bought in any store meant only one thing: Michael Jordan himself must have sent him those shoes. And if this guy was tight with MJ, then he was OK in Crawford’s mind.
If only it were true. Marsh laughs when he hears the story.
“I was always a Nike guy,” he said. “They took great care of me when I was doing those camps and made sure we always had enough gear for the kids.”
He figures someone from Nike sent him the shoes as a gift and doesn’t remember wearing them in any sort of premeditated effort to impress the kids. What he does remember about that day over 25 years ago is Jamal Crawford.
“Oh, yeah. I noticed him,” Marsh said. “He was not someone who hung around in the back. He was not lacking for confidence.”
On Aug. 6-7, Marsh and Crawford will cross paths again. Marsh is still involved with coaching and teaching kids. And in part to honor him, a three-on-three hoops tournament was started last year as a fund-raiser for the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation and Mentoring Works Washington. This year, the tournament was combined with a similar tournament at Emerald Downs. Information on the tournament (team registration deadline is July 31) is available at jimmarshclassic.org.
Crawford will stop by the tournament because that’s what he does in the summer. He hosts and attends events designed to help keep kids and the basketball community connected. He’ll also stop by to continue the big payback to people like Marsh, who helped him when he was young.
“I remember the guys who were kind to me,” Crawford said. “I always said if I made it, I want to be like the guys who were doing the right things. The guys who were always positive and always encouraging kids and I think that’s what Jim stands for.”
It didn’t take NBA success for Crawford to begin giving back to the kids coming behind him. It’s something he learned early after interacting with adults like Marsh.
“In high school or college I didn’t have much money, but if I had an extra pair of shoes for the younger kids I would give ’em to them,” Crawford said. He points out that guys like Gary Payton and Doug Christie helped him when he was younger, so it just seemed natural for him to do the same thing.
Down the road, when NBA success came, he was able to do more. He was also in a position to fulfill a prophecy his sister made years ago.
“She always said when you come into a lot of money, you just become a bigger version of what you already were,” Crawford said. “If you are a giver, you become more of a giver. If you weren’t so nice before you’re going to be even meaner.”
The bigger version of Jamal Crawford wanted to be grounded in his hometown. So despite the fact that the NBA lifestyle affords players some obvious advantages, he was determined to hang on tightly to his roots.
“I wanted to be reachable and touchable,” Crawford said. “Because those guys before me were like that and I think it helped mold a whole generation of guys. I think the guys that came along afterwards have always tried to follow that blueprint. I think it makes our community better and stronger.”
Crawford was not the only NBA star to drop in and visit with young players at last year’s Jim Marsh Classic. Spencer Hawes, Isaiah Thomas, and former Sonic Sam Perkins all showed up. They all had two things in common: basketball and Marsh.
“He’s had an amazing impact on all of our lives and the least we can do is go support what he’s doing,” Crawford said. “He’s dedicated his life to basketball and seeing young kids develop and be productive in and out of sports. He’s not trying to do anything but be himself, a good person and a pillar in the community. And he’s doing that.”
Mike Gastineau is a former sports-talk radio host and author of “Sounders FC: Authentic Masterpiece”, a book detailing the birth of Seattle’ MLS soccer franchise.