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Year 16: Jamal Crawford Is Still Going Strong

Y’all know me, still the same O.G., but I been low key. – Dr.Dre

Years ago, I, just like a lot of people, believed that Jamal Crawford was underrated and overlooked. He is, and he always has been, but it’s 2016 now and that isn’t and shouldn’t be his legacy anymore. In the eyes of those who truly matter, his fellow NBA players, Crawford is one of the baddest guards of his time.

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The 2015-16 season marks Kobe Bryant’s 20th and final season in the NBA, it also marks Jamal Crawford’s 16th season, which really isn’t that far off from 20. This man has now played more years than Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and Baron Davis. Arguably the greatest Sixth Man in NBA history, Crawford isn’t underrated at all anymore. He’s actually one of the most respected players in the league today.

December 25, 2015: Kobe Bryant is set to play in his final Christmas Day game and it’s against the Clippers. It’s his farewell tour so he’s really just trying to enjoy everything and just be cool with everyone on his way out, shake everyone’s hands and hug everyone as much as he can. Every rookie, every veteran, every former teammate, assistant coach, opponent etc. get a moment with Bryant. It feels like he’s saying peace to everyone, even if he didn’t know them.

It’s crazy.

I haven’t seen someone hug and shake more hands than Bryant has over the past three months. Occasionally, usually once a night, he seems to have an interaction that really means something to him. It’s usually with former teammates or great players from his era that are still playing. Kobe is clearly way more engaged with a legend from his era, someone who once gave him problems or someone who’s game he just really respects.

The Kevin Garnett, LeBron James’, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki’s and Vince Carter’s of the world get a lot of love and respect from the Mamba on his way out. Watch closely and you’ll realize Kobe embraces these types of players in a different manner. It’s special.

The final buzzer sounds in LA. on Christmas night, Kobe does his usual farewell routine with every player of the Clippers, then for a moment everything kind of slows down and a line-up forms behind a certain Clipper. Kobe’s face lights up when Jamal Crawford walks towards him, he knows this could be one of the final times the two see each other as opponents on the court. They hug, talk for a moment and that same spark that the greatest player of his era has when he meets KG, Bron, Pierce or Dirk for some of the final times in his career comes out as he talks to Crawford.

You can define this interaction simply as, mad respect.

There was a night at one point in his career, probably in the mid 2000’s, where Kobe sat back on a night-off, just like every other great player from this era which is slowly passing probably has and just marvelled at Crawford’s game, thinking to themselves “this guy is SO NICE, yet he’s so overlooked.” The great scorers especially, can see a lot of themselves in him.

Then JC probably went up against them and more than held his own, went toe-to-toe with them, gave them and/or their teammate bucket, after bucket, after bucket. Hitting superstar shots, doing whatever he wanted out there, while quietly taking the game over.

Scorers always remember their major duels, and they always remember when a guy came at them.

Before Steph Curry made his silky smooth/calm game mainstream, there was the supremely confident Crawford ready to go at every great perimeter player from the late 90’s and 2000’s and do what they do, and on some nights do it better.

Kobe most definitely remembers when Crawford took on the challenge of going back at him during their exciting duel at MSG in 2007. Mamba had 39 points, which included some ridiculous shots. Mal responded with 31 clutch points, nearly leading the Knicks back from a 25-point deficit.

A year before that he gave Dwyane Wade and the defending champion Miami Heat squad 52 points in 39 minutes.

During an off-camera moment in one of our features with Allen Iverson last year, The Answer mentioned Jamal as one of his favorite players to watch in today’s NBA. A.I. probably still hasn’t forgotten the 33 and 8 a 23-year-old Crawford hung on his Sixers back in 2003, or the 25 and 8 he gave him at MSG in a comeback win over the Nuggets back in 07-08.

This guy has BEEN doing it, for years. Even on this stacked Clippers team, he goes off for a big “superstar-type” scoring performance at least a few times a year.

Players around the league are very aware of his abilities and consider him one of the most dangerous scorers in the NBA. His game gets mad love and respect in any gym in the world. Great players and people, who truly know the game of basketball, know how special Jamal Crawford is and has been throughout his career.

Anyone who is familiar with the hoops scene in the state of Washington knows how much Isaiah Thomas being named an All-Star earlier this month must have meant to Crawford.

Jamal was like an older brother to the former 60th pick. He was and still is his mentor. Isaiah wouldn’t be where he is if it wasn’t for Crawford.

One of the best guards in the game today, Thomas is a protege of Jamal Crawford. That’s why when he was named an All-Star, Crawford probably felt the honor just as much.

He has inspired that next generation of hoopers in the state of Washington. Crawford is the guy they look up to and go to for advice. To the IT’s, Avery Bradley’s, Nate Robinson’s and now the Dejuante Murray’s, he’ll always be way more than just an NBA star.

Mal is like the MJ of the Seattle area. He is an assassin on the court, and carries himself in a great manner off of it. A true professional and an amazing role model, not only for youth in the state of Washington, but also the pro athlete’s.

The best part about his professionalism is that he’s real about it; it’s not that fake professional. He’s genuinely humble and professional. That’s a major reason for his longevity in the NBA.

As a basketball player, this 2015-16 campaign was a crucial one for Crawford. Coming into the season his status with the Clippers was up in the air, the team was bringing in more guards and all kinds of rumors were floating around.

Regardless, one thing we knew that wouldn’t change about the guy who’s played for 17 different NBA coaches and six different teams throughout his career is the fact that he’d come out and ball, as always. Jamal Crawford would continue being Jamal Crawford.

No matter what the situation has been throughout his career, no matter what jersey he’s been in, Crawford has played his game and made a major impact. He’s over-delivered since day one.

That’s why when we asked him how many more years he thinks he can play during one of our conversations in the summer; we agreed it’d be at least 3-4 more.

I actually watched him a lot this past year, especially in his Seattle Pro-Am, which is probably the most competitive Pro-Am in the country. It’s truly amazing… he’s 35-years-old and hasn’t nearly lost a step, his shot is as wet as ever, the handle is still as filthy as ever and his conditioning is at peak levels. Crawford legitimately looks and moves around like he’s still 26-years-old.

As good as he looked throughout the offseason, I knew this was a big year coming up. The stage he is at right now in his career is usually a crossroads for most basketball players. It can be dangerous.

Mainstream media is funny, especially in basketball. As soon as an NBA player, especially a scorer, turns 33-34 years-old the “analysts” and basketball “specialists” are putting then in a rocking chair, counting down the days to their demise from the league simply because it makes for a cool story.

It’s dirty and it manipulates the way fans, and sadly even coaches/front offices view a players game. A player could be just as athletic and effective at 35 as they were at 29 and they’ll simply write him off because it’s the cool pattern to follow. The problem is the people writing these things haven’t played the game, therefore they don’t understand the game to the fullest.

You turn 34, 35 years old and have a few rough shooting nights and now all of a sudden the folks that never cared to write positively about you during your prime years and chose to point at the extremely irrelevant and flawed “plus/minus stats” when your name came up in a positive light, would pop up and be the first to claim your time is up and the league won’t want you anymore

Those stories and headlines can affect a player when he becomes a free agent, they can change the perception executives in the L have about a player and his ability to perform.

If the Seattle-native wasn’t playing as good as he has been for the Clippers this season, as the go-to-guy on the wing, the clutch play and shot maker, they’d be ready to write him off. If he wasn’t successfully helping his team get through the West without star forward Blake Griffin, those tired phrases of “getting old”, “losing a step” would pop up just because he’s averaging two less points (on two less shots) per game than last season. The dip in stats was already expected on this deep, guard-heavy squad, but “they” won’t care to explain that part about the story.

At the same time, I know it’s always been different with Jamal Crawford. If anyone was going to just skip past this crossroads stage of his career, it’s him and now he has.

Put someone who hasn’t watched basketball for fifteen years in front of a TV and put on a Clippers game, they’ll think JC has ten more years left to play.

He is making “Father Time” irrelevant. Nobody can even tell he’s turning 36-years-old in a month.

In the absence of Blake Griffin, Crawford has stepped up big time. Over the last nine games he’s been averaging 20 points per game and the Clippers are 7-2. He’s playing heavy minutes and is playing his role as the veteran-scorer/playmaker as good as ever.

The best part about this is that the media hasn’t been able to think of using the term “father time”, let alone mention it, as they love to do, because his play hasn’t allowed them to.

Doc Rivers loves the idea of bringing great players together and selling them on sacrificing. That’s why this roster has some big names on it and a lot of depth. Crawford has done a great job of buying in, as he always did and he’s still able to play his game and make an impact with his style of play. Along with Chris Paul, the veteran guard has the ball down the stretch and is relied on to take big shots, which he is always ready for.

This Clippers team is looking like a serious threat in the West again, and JC is a big reason for that.

Kawhi Leonard and Andre Iguodala weren’t mentioned as NBA Finals MVP’s during the playoffs these past two years but they came through and did what they always do on the grandest stage. If the Clippers were to reach the NBA Finals this season, that’s something Crawford could very well be.

As a strength & conditioning guy, I’ve known for awhile that Crawford is a gifted athlete. His muscles fire differently, his build is unique, his game is light and his skill/feel for the game is out of this world. If he takes care of his body and continues keeping himself in game shape throughout the year as he always does, he’ll come back and do his thing every year.

He’s not 27-years-old anymore, but Jamal still has the exact same abilities that he had back then, the only difference is that he is a smarter player now.

If the season ended today, Mal would be heading into the summer before his 17th season with his value as high as ever for a player of his age.

It’s crazy how time changes the perception of someone. Players he once idolized know about him and his game pretty damn well, they know what he does and they respect the hell out of him for it. The superstars of the NBA get up to play him, they love going at him because they know he’ll be the first to come back at them. They deny their man the ball with one eye on him as he dazzles with the shot-clock winding down, knowing how lethal he really is.

He’s no longer underrated. But, his longevity is probably a little overlooked, which is okay. In short time, people will learn to appreciate that too.

Jamal Crawford may not have “All-Star” on his resume, but he doesn’t need it anymore. By now, they, the one’s that really matter; already know what the deal is.

His whole career Crawford played with a chip on his shoulder, with something to prove and now in year 16 all of it has paid off, he has a great career and an even better legacy among his peers, fans and community.

He’s that dude, and he is still that dude: Jamal Crawford, one of the most unique players in NBA history, and he’s still got a whole lot of basketball left in him.

By: Ekam Nagra

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