Jamal Crawford wanted to play.
A year after his beloved Pro-Am basketball league, dubbed the Crawsover, was canceled as the COVID-19 pandemic tore across the country, the Seattle basketball star wanted to do everything he could to make sure the event would return in 2021, Sylvester Dennis, the event’s co-commissioner, said.
“He wanted to play last year, too, but we just couldn’t,” Dennis said.
On Thursday, Crawford confirmed on Twitter what Seattle basketball fans had been waiting for, officially announcing the schedule for the 2021 Crawsover, with the first games set for July 10. Games will take place at Seattle Pacific University, as they traditionally have, with free entry but limited capacity for fans. Four games will be played per day, eight per weekend, with the first tipping off at noon and the last at 4 p.m.
Crawford’s announcement was the result of last-minute paperwork, creative logistical solutions and a condensed timeline that forced league administrators to organize the entire event, normally a two-month process, in two weeks. Dennis, who has served as co-commissioner with Crawford since 2017, said the whole process relied on cooperation and cohesiveness from everyone involved.
“COVID really just kind of pushed the timeline back,” he said. “We just found out recently we were going to be able to do it (at SPU) and we’ve gotta just adhere to so many more extra rules — which is fine. It’s going to take a collaborative effort among the staff, the teams, the players, the coaches, even fans, you know? We’re all taking this journey together so we’re just going to have to collaborate on it and work together if it’s going to be successful.”
First organized in 1995 by Doug Christie, the Rainier Beach High alum and 15-year NBA veteran, the Crawsover was handed over to Crawford in 2004. Since then, the Pro-Am has become one of the most popular summer leagues in the country. NBA superstars like Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving have all flocked to Seattle to play in past iterations of the event.
Professionals aren’t the only ones who play in the Pro-Am, though. Young Seattle basketball players are given the chance to train and play with seasoned NBA vets. Local talents like Dejounte Murray, Kevin Porter Jr., Michael Porter Jr., Matisse Thybulle, Jalen and Jaden McDaniels, and Paolo Banchero, the Duke commit who is ranked as 247.com’s No. 2 prospect in the country, have all played at the Crawsover as high schoolers.
Since 2017, the NCAA has allowed players to participate as well, giving college athletes like former Washington State guard Malachi Flynn and Washington’s Isaiah Stewart the chance to play, too. Alvin Snow Jr., a Crawsover board member who has coached teams at the event for about a decade, believes it is one of the most important events for the Seattle basketball scene, especially since 2008, when the NBA Seattle SuperSonics were relocated and rebranded as the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“I think this city is built for high-level basketball,” Snow said. “We love basketball here. For years this was considered a football state but I feel like that’s since changed. The McDonald’s All-American Game said on their Twitter account, they said that Washington state is the new mecca of basketball. Obviously that’s in large part due to Seattle.
“This Pro-Am showcases all the talent we have here, both those that are recognized and those that are less recognized.”
Last year, the co-commissioners tried to find a new gym, or a bubble-type environment, but found the Crawsover simply wasn’t sustainable.
“(Crawford) was disappointed,” Dennis said. “A big part of him really looks forward to organizing it, running it, playing in it in the summertime and he and myself are creatures of habit. For the last four or five years we’ve been doing it together, and when he was just like, ‘Man, Ves, we ain’t doing it this summer man,’ it was tough for both of us cause we’ve both been doing it for however many years in a row.”
But with the reopening of Seattle set for this week, the organizers knew they had to try to bring the Crawsover back in 2021.
There were several obstacles. Due to their association with the NBA, the NCAA and SPU, the Crawsover has to follow the protocols of all three organizations. In a normal summer, these regulations and rules all align, but with the schedule moved back, it’s been harder to keep everything together.
For example, Dennis said the Pro-Am normally tries to line up with NBA free agency in mid-July. However, this year NBA players won’t be allowed to play until July 23, weeks later than normal, ruling them out for the first weekend of the Crawsover.
Organizers also had to submit paperwork to the NBA and the NCAA on shorter deadlines and had to buy extra insurance that they normally aren’t required to have. They only found out they were going to be able to use SPU’s gym two weeks ago.
The one thing that hasn’t been difficult is finding players. Dennis said he’s had teams and players reaching out to him for weeks, even before the Crawsover’s return had been confirmed.
“Everyone’s excited to come back and be a part of it,” Dennis said. “Jamal’s getting hit up, I’m getting hit up, the coaches, the teams — everyone’s getting hit up. “It’s kind of limited of the teams we have in there and the players. That’s by design. It’s an honor and distinction to play in it, not just anyone is able to play in it. It’s not gonna be hard at all to get players. All the rosters are set already.”
Dennis anticipates high turnout, and with limited space due to COVID-19 restrictions and first-come, first-serve seating, wants people to know they’ve got to show up early if they want to watch some of the best basketball the Pacific Northwest has to offer. And while he teased some high-profile NBA and collegiate players who have already signed up, he declined to reveal them.
“(Crawford) doesn’t really like to name the guests,” Dennis said. “He just kind of wants people to come, show up, and see who’s there.”