For six weekends every summer, Seattle Pacific University becomes Jamal Crawford’s basketball haven where hoops aficionados reminisce about the past while hoping to catch a glimpse of the Next Big Thing.
There’s a joke circulating among the Royal Brougham Pavilion crowd that’s spilled into Third Avenue West under the late afternoon sun.
It goes like this: Alvin Snow and Martell Webster may have killed Seattle’s longest-running summer basketball league that began 22 years ago.
That’s the takeaway of courtside observers who watched Jamal Crawford storm off the floor after being ejected from a heated 118-113 loss last Sunday to Webster and a stacked team featuring NBA players and former UW stars Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss.
Two weeks prior, Snow, who coaches a handful of former Seattle-area standouts, handed Crawford a humbling 129-81 defeat, which snapped his two-year win streak in The Crawsover Pro-Am League that bears his name.
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“So let me get this straight, if there’s not a Pro-Am next year, then it’s our fault?” Webster asked playfully. “I never thought of it that way.”
Snow added another perspective.
“Look, Jamal would have it no other way,” he said. “I love him like a brother. I’ve known him more than half of my life, but he knows that when you step on that court, we’re battling like it’s the very first time and we need this win to eat. That’s just how it is.”
Snow is exactly right.
Crawford, who resurrected Seattle’s Pro-Am (professional-amateur) league in 2005, says he expects to operate The Crawsover for many more years because – in his words – “I was born to do this.”
For six weekends during the summer, Seattle Pacific University becomes Crawford’s basketball haven where hoops aficionados reminisce about the past while hoping to catch a glimpse of the Next Big Thing.
Beginning July 7, nine teams participate in nine games before the start of Sunday’s playoffs. The league wraps up next week with the semifinals on Saturday and the title game on Aug. 26.
Admission is free, and the Pro-Am maintains a grass-roots popularity through various social-media platforms.
“The thing that makes this Pro-Am different from all the others is Seattle doesn’t have a NBA team so you feel like it’s more of a responsibility to be out here for fans who may not get a chance to see NBA players,” said Murray, who has been a regular this summer at SPU. “I don’t know if we’re better or worse than other Pro-Ams, but I know from the old guys to the young guys there’s a connection with these fans and this city that you just don’t see in other places.”
The 45-year-old Drew League in Los Angeles, with its ties to Nike and Hollywood celebrities, is considered the gold standard for summer-league basketball while the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic at famed Rucker Park in New York City’s Harlem is arguably the most prestigious pro-am.
The Crawsover is on par with other notable leagues around the country including the Goodman League in Washington D.C., Dyckman Park in Manhattan and the San Francisco Pro-Am.
• • •
A little something for everybody
If there’s an unwritten slogan for The Crawsover, it’s this: You never know what or who you might see on any given weekend.
Fans are still buzzing about that August day in 2013 when former Sonic star Kevin Durant returned to Seattle and scored a league-record 63 points.
And few have forgotten the time Blake Griffin put on a dunk show and threw down 51 points or the brilliant cameos from Kyrie Irving, John Wall and Chris Paul.
The NBA greats garner the sellout crowds and viral videos, but the league’s main attractions are Seattle’s past, present and future stars who quench the thirst for high-level hoops a decade after the Sonics departed for Oklahoma City.
It’s not unusual to witness Washington Huskies senior guard Dominic Green drop 12 three-pointers en route to the 51-point performance he had on July 8.
“My first game the day before, I had eight points, but then the next day I score 51,” said Green, who plays with Husky teammate Nahziah Carter, who scored 40 points in the game. “It gives you a boost of confidence for sure.”
For the second straight year, UW’s Noah Dickerson and Matisse Thybulle played alongside Crawford in supporting roles while Huskies teammates David Crisp, Jaylen Nowell, Hameir Wright and incoming freshman Elijah Hardy have each starred at times on various teams.
“Where I’m from it’s nothing new to be on the court with NBA guys, but the main thing I want to show them is no matter my age I’m not backing down from anybody,” said Hardy, an Oakland native. “That’s just my game. So whether it’s Jamal Crawford or whoever, you can’t show fear.
“If they score on you, then you go back at them.”
The conclusion of the prominent AAU tournament summer circuit allows aspiring high-school stars to make their pro-am debuts and measure themselves against the game’s best.
A year ago, Michael Porter Jr., who led Nathan Hale to a 2017 Class 3A boys basketball state championship and an undefeated season, captured headlines after tallying 47 points and 23 rebounds at The Crawsover.
Last Sunday, O’Dea sophomore phenom Paolo Banchero, who is ranked in the top five nationally among 2021 recruits by ESPN, finished with eight points and six rebounds off the bench against Crawford’s team.
There’s a sentimental lure about the just-past-their prime stars such as 30-year-old Spencer Hawes, the former UW Husky standout and 10-year NBA veteran, who hopes to get another chance in the NBA after sitting out last season.
There’s an intriguing fascination about shot-blocking sensation Robert Upshaw, a 24-year-old 7-footer who played 19 games for the Huskies in 2014-15 before being dismissed and subsequently touring extensively overseas with the hopes of landing in an NBA training camp.
And there’s a do-they-still-got-it curiosity surrounding former UW stars Tony Wroten Jr. and Abdul Gaddy, Washington State standout DaVonte Lacy and Isiah Umipig, the record-setting three-point specialist at Seattle University.
“The league has gotten younger and more exciting ever since the college guys started playing two years ago,” said Snow, a partner at Worldwide Sports Management who represents Upshaw, Gaddy and Lacy. “After the big-name NBA guys, a lot of fans want to see the young UW kids and the high-school guys.”
Powell should know.
The 37-year-old dean of students and boys basketball coach at Renton High has been affiliated with the league since his father Randy Redwine coached and helped organize the Seattle Pro-Am in the 1990s.
“For the NBA guys it’s a safe environment where they can come out and play hard and know that they’re not going to get hurt playing against somebody who has some idiotic point to prove,” said Powell, who served as the league’s commissioner from 2009-16. “You have college kids who can sharpen their skills and be around pro guys and soak up that knowledge.
“Then you have the former guys like myself who do it to stay competitive and stay in shape and give back to the younger generation.”
• • •
Seattle’s greatest basketball ambassador
Crawford is the bridge connecting Seattle’s basketball past to the next generation. A weekend at SPU feels as if he’s invited you to his house to watch a backyard basketball game between his old friends and new acquaintances.
Take last Saturday for example.
Two 6-foot-5 guards at the opposite ends of their careers were going at it and the fans were loving it.
One of them – Crawford – is a 38-year-old basketball magician with a killer crossover dribble, and the other – Zach LaVine – is a high-flying Renton native and former Bothell High star who is best known for twice winning the NBA Slam Dunk title.
They put on a spectacular show for the crowd while trading no-look passes, three-point shots and made-for-YouTube dunks.
LaVine, 23, looked every bit like the $78 million centerpiece of the Chicago Bulls’ makeover while scoring 56 points – a league high this year.
And Crawford, 15 years older than LaVine, wasn’t too shabby either with 38 points, 18 assists and 11 rebounds to lead Team Adidas to a 122-115 win.
The game ended with Crawford leaping and weaving the ball between his legs before throwing it off the glass and flushing a dunk.
“How sick was that?” said LaVine, who scored 50 points in his only other Pro-Am game this summer two weeks ago. “He’s 38 and he’s not in the corner spotting up shooting jumpers. Guys half his age can’t stay in front of him.
“And he’s still dunking like he’s 21.”
This is a good time to bring up Crawford’s job status. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year is an unrestricted free agent, which he said is equally worrisome and exciting.
Since averaging 18.6 points in 2013-14 with the Los Angeles Clippers, his scoring average has steadily declined the past five seasons to 10.3 points last season in Minnesota – his lowest since his second year in 2001-02.
And yet seven words put Crawford’s career into perspective.
Eighteen years. Seven teams. Eighteen head coaches.
“Fit is first and foremost when I’m thinking about where I’ll play next,” said Crawford, who wants to play another 2-3 years. “Last year, I may have made the mistake of not thinking fit all the way through.
“You look at my career, when the fit was right, I contributed on the court. … I know people that care for me want me to win (an NBA title), but I don’t know if my career will be defined by that.”
The former No. 8 overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft has crafted a legacy as Seattle’s greatest basketball ambassador. He’s won humanitarian awards for his charity work and has literally given the basketball shoes on his feet – many times – to fans and autograph seekers.
“Jamal is a great basketball player, but he’s an even better person,” said his close friend and Rainier Beach boys basketball assistant Dave King, who teamed with Crawford to win a 1998 state title for the Vikings. “He’s changed so many lives by just being who he is – a good person.”
Crawford, a father of four who married his longtime girlfriend Tori Lucas in 2015, donated $100,000 for renovations to the Rainier Beach High gym, where his retired No. 23 jersey is framed and the floor is named after him.
He spent $50,000 to refurbish the basketball courts at Liberty Park in Renton. He’s funded projects for heart defibrillators and athletic trainers at Seattle Public Schools, sponsored free summer basketball camps and back-to-school rallies where backpacks are given away.
• • •
‘Steel sharpens steel’
Most of Crawford’s philanthropic deeds occur without fanfare, away from the spotlight. But he’s a vocal advocate for his summer basketball league that rarely receives mainstream media attention.
Crawford’s league has grown immensely since he took over the “All Hoop, No Hype” league that homegrown NBA star Doug Christie started in 1996.
As a teenager, Crawford was one of the few high-school stars invited to play in games highlighted by Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp and Damon Stoudamire.
“I was 16 and not sure I really belonged on the floor with those guys,” Crawford said. “I remember one day having a really good game against Cliff Robinson and afterward thinking, I can play with anybody.
“I never want to forget that feeling because when I’m out there playing now, these young kids are coming at me like that. No matter what’s going on in my world, it might be the biggest game of their life. I respect that. And that’s why I play as hard as I do.”
Crawford took over the league in 2005 and for seven years games were held at high schools and community centers throughout Renton and Rainier Beach. The league moved to SPU’s 2,650-seat Royal Brougham Pavilion in 2013.
The league’s profile and stature have grown over the years, but it’s maintained its gritty schoolyard pickup-game spirit.
“Back in the day, it felt more intimate,” said the 36-year-old Snow, a prolific scorer at Franklin High who starred at Eastern Washington before embarking on a 10-year overseas career that ended in 2014 because of a torn Achilles. “It felt like it was just us. We weren’t worried about the crowd or anything else.
“We played to compete with each other, push each other and help each other prepare for where we were going. We always wanted to win, but we looked at it like steel sharpens steel.”
Depending on the matchup, the competition level at The Crawsover can range between an NBA All-Star game where defense is nonexistent to a heated rivalry involving neighborhood high schools.
Players bicker and boast. They taunt and trash talk. Sometimes the games get physical and skirmishes are settled on and off the court.
In Crawford’s case last Sunday, emotions ran so high that his verbal spat with a game official resulted in a second technical foul and his ejection with less than a minute remaining in a thrilling five-point defeat.
“I’ve been doing this for eight years y’all, and I’ve never seen that,” PA announcer Vance Dawson told the crowd. “That’s just cold-blooded.”
Or perhaps his game-high 36 points preceding the early exit – and Crawford’s admission that he’ll stew over this defeat for days – is another reminder why he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
“I’m going on 19 years and I still have this fire to compete, in August, in a so-called meaningless game,” Crawford said. “I’ve always been like that. It doesn’t matter if it’s one person in the gym or 10,000, I’ve always played to win.”
On this day, Crawford lost. But as long as his basketball summer league survives, Seattle wins.