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Ex-NBA pro Jordan Crawford has a story to tell — and a whole lot more

Ex-NBA pro Jordan Crawford has a story to tell — and a whole lot more

Seeing Cam Thomas fade into the background makes Jordan Crawford’s blood boil. 

The two never suited up together, but they did both play for the Long Island Nets — Brooklyn’s G League affiliate — as recently as last season, so Crawford got to see what Thomas could do behind the scenes. 

“All these players now, they think they're a bucket. Everybody calls themselves a bucket and all this. You can tell the way he scores is a different level than average the way somebody scores, 'cause he can really put the ball in the hole,” Crawford told Basketball News in a phone interview from China, where his third stint in the Chinese Basketball Association recently got underway.

A short month ago, amidst Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant being traded out of town, Thomas exploded with three consecutive 40-plus-point performances over the longest stretch of minutes he’s had in his NBA career. He was going to the cup, getting to the line and pulling up from the parking lot with great success.

Compare that to last week, and he’s vanished from the rotation. Excluding Thursday's 21-point performance in 26 minutes, he played a combined 14 minutes in the three previous games, even receiving a DNP-CD to boot. Watching from afar, Crawford feels Thomas looks anxious on the court — something that he can so closely relate to.

“I never really got to showcase my game in the United States honestly or in the NBA as far as like, 'I know I got this role for a whole a season, the same exact role for a whole season.' ‘Cause when you do have that comfort, it allows you to play your true game (and be) who you are,” Crawford said. “My game, I feel like in the NBA, I always had to rush it because one day I was playing, next day I may not play. One day I might play and one day I'm not. So I never really got to be comfortable and just know, 'The next day I come into this facility, I'm gonna have the same role whether I have a bad game or not.' And for my career average to be what it was [11.1 points per game], I think that's impressive because my time was so inconsistent.

“That's why I was (feeling) so strong about the Cam Thomas thing 'cause it's like, you see someone get 40 three straight times and then you stop playing 'em. And then, as months go by, of course everybody forgets it and you just automatically think, 'Oh, he must not have been playing well. That's why they didn't play him.' It's like, no! It's just the business of (basketball) stopped him. And then now, his career's up in the air, again."

Crawford argues that if you were to give Thomas a concrete 25-to-30 minutes per night, his game would flourish. Instead of rushing his shots due to the unknown of substitution patterns and an inconsistent situation, he’d be more willing to pass the ball and understand that it’ll come back to him. There’d be a calmer nature to his game, which in turn would benefit both the individual and the team.

As for others he’d like to see get more opportunities, former NBA point guard Tremont Waters and Nets two-way player David Duke Jr. come to mind. G League talents, he believes, have more hunger than many in the NBA: “I really want the NBA to start doing preseason where they play some G League teams, but I know they're not gonna do that.”

Ultimately, he doesn’t want Thomas to fall victim to what he went through during his time in the NBA, a period of Crawford’s life he did not mince words about or hide names when asked to describe it.

“I mean, I had bad experiences everywhere I went. I'm not afraid to say it,” Crawford shared. “When I was with Mark Jackson in Golden State, I would've loved to play with Klay [Thompson] and Steph [Curry], you know what I'm saying? Shaun Livingston, Jordan Poole, all these people have gotten to do it. But like, it was such an inconsistent role. When I was in New Orleans, we had Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, E'Twaun Moore. We had a great team, a team that could compete with Golden State, and Alvin Gentry was the coach. We had an advantage against them because we had strong, physical guys, big and small guards like Jrue Holiday, who could check a Kevin Durant or a Steph Curry. So my thing was like... I wish the NBA would keep it basketball sometimes.

“You get these people in positions like an Alvin Gentry, who cares more about his position than actually the competition of basketball, trying to win this series that we in. So, it was obviously a series that we could've won, but with him not using his whole roster and him just caring about, 'We don't have to win, as long as I get another extension on my contract, I don't really care about winning,' it's really doing a disservice to the whole state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans. It's like, how about we try to win? And that would make the game better, honestly and that'd make the business better. I was with New Orleans and he didn't play me. I felt like it hurt the team because we needed guys that could compete on the scoring level of certain guys on the other team. So I just feel like it be too much of people's egos getting in the way.”

Crawford relays that it felt the same with the Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards too. In his eyes, his unshakable confidence and competitive nature rattled these organizations to the point where they wouldn’t give him any run. Day-to-day, things would change in spite of his gift as a natural volume scorer. It’s why he’s so critical of what he sees as a political game in the NBA, then and now.

An example: Not too long ago, Crawford watched “All The Smoke” with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson interviewing Dwight Howard. In the interview, the veteran big man recalled a conversation before the 2019-20 campaign where Los Angeles Lakers senior advisor Kurt Rambis said, “You’re not Dwight Howard no more. Don’t expect to be Dwight Howard when you come to the team.” Crawford couldn’t believe what he heard, and it serves as another case study of what he’s referring to with big-headed personnel.

“My thing is, there's nothing wrong with that 'cause he's not the same Dwight Howard, but Kurt Rambis needs to understand Kurt Rambis was never a Dwight Howard,” Crawford said. “So if you talk to him with that humility of, 'Listen, I'm just Kurt Rambis, but I'm in this position of creating a team,' that is the way I feel you're supposed to speak to a Dwight Howard, who's damn near a Hall-of-Famer. But when you come with this ego that's like, 'You're not Dwight Howard,' how you gon' tell me I'm not Dwight Howard? So that's my thing with just coaching talent. It's about just showing respect from both sides, and you're gonna get the most out of a player when you did.”

Though his position on the league isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, Crawford does have a goal to eventually come back for a final run in the NBA — and it’s not just about the basketball.

“I definitely want to play for the Pistons. I think I deserve (it) from what I'm doing on and off the court. I would love to play for my hometown,” said Crawford, whose family holds season tickets with the organization and is active in the Detroit community.

Together with his parents, Sylvia and Joseph Sr., and brothers, Joe and Jalen, Jordan bought a building downtown and invested in a real estate property near the Riverwalk in 2017. Coming together to form Crawford Real Estate and Development Holdings LLC, they began renting it out to people who needed a place for large events like weddings, banquets and graduations. In the meantime, they were working on getting permits and a liquor license.

Six years after the purchase, the Crawford family has announced they’ll be tacking on a coffee shop-speakeasy hybrid to that event space and renaming Street CRED to CRED Cafe. Renovations are nearing completion as the cafe waits to open its doors, which Crawford is admittedly more hyped about than anything going on with his basketball career.

“It's almost done. We got top-of-the-line stuff. It looks real fancy and nice,” Crawford said. “It's gonna be like a sneaky door type that leads you into the bar. We was coming up with ideas as we was just trying to see what made sense for real, and it just turned out so dope.”

Home is where Jordan burst onto the scene. Joe, his oldest brother, was a McDonald's All-American representing Renaissance High School in the early 2000s, so he was bound to follow suit. However, due to his lack of focus in academics and a senior-year broken ankle, it didn’t happen. That doesn’t mean Crawford didn’t see the city’s best on the court.

Admittedly, in Detroit, there were no Nike or adidas camps he attended. Crawford primarily developed under The Family, an AAU program that produced many current and former NBA and professional players. There, he got close to Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers, Oregon’s Malik Hairston and Tajuan Porter, Michigan standout Manny Harris and Memphis star Chris Douglas-Roberts.

“I think it's just funny that I didn't play in high school, period. And I still was like, 'I'm gonna make the NBA,’” Crawford quipped. “It was a lot of talent that I was around. We was all on AAU trips together. So being around those guys and playing against 'em, I mean, I felt like I played against the best before I ever left Detroit.”

Crawford only briefly suited up for Communication and Media Arts High School prior to leaving to play prep ball for Kevin Keatts at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia in 2006-07. (Another highly recognized and decorated institution that’s produced a lot of NBA and pro hoopers.) 

After that, Crawford wound up at Indiana University on the same team as sure-fire one-and-done freshman guard Eric Gordon and savvy senior D.J. White, with Kelvin Sampson as the head coach. Unfortunately, that October, Sampson was forced out by the NCAA due to allegations of improper recruiting via impermissible phone calls; Crawford still has love for him. (Sampson currently coaches the top-ranked Houston Cougars.)

Dan Dakich took over the team in the interim ahead of a mass exodus the following season in Bloomington. Crawford was one of many who exited stage left, ending up at Xavier with Chris Mack and the Musketeers. Unlike these days with the transfer portal, where there is no longer a waiting period, Crawford had to sit out an entire season before stepping onto the court for his new college.

“I think that the players can make their own choice. I do think it gets tricky because you have to face adversity in order to get better as a player,” Crawford said of changing schools. “You can't just run when things get hard, but you do need to know if it's time to get out and transfer. But you do need to know when it's just adversity and you need to fight through it. This transfer (portal), the fact that you ain't gotta sit out... young kids, they think they know it all. So when they're mad and they make that emotional move, they don't realize it's gonna be harder leaving than staying. Then, you're listening to parents and all this, so it's tricky. It's real tricky.”

Before he could even put on his Xavier threads for the first time, Crawford became an internet sensation. In July 2009, he put LeBron James on a poster — at his own summer camp, hosted at the LeBron James Skills Academy in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.

A buzzworthy moment that happened just as the pick-up game started to get underway, Crawford’s name began trending on an up-and-coming social-media platform called Twitter. Two hours later, he got back to his hotel, where he got a call from his Musketeers teammate Mark Lyons.

“'Did you dunk on LeBron?!'” Crawford remembers him asking. “I was like, 'Damn, how did you hear about that? This just happened, how did you hear?' (Word) was already, I guess, going around and stuff. And I remember (Xavier assistant) Mario Mercurio, when I got back to Xavier after that, he grabbed me into his room and was like, 'We're making you a Twitter right now.' And I still got all them followers from that. I still got 70,000 followers on Twitter just because of that dunk on LeBron.”

Because Nike’s team confiscated video footage of the dunk from two journalists, the dunk received even more attention. The top high school basketball players from the area were there to watch and “went crazy,” spreading the word. 

“I think by that noise that all them made, made (Nike) be like, 'Alright, it's something to this,' when really, (Nike) made it bigger by all y'all finding out. 'Damn, they hidin' the tapes. What was it?' 'Cause it really wasn't nothing,” Crawford laughed. “I'm appreciative of it because so many people still recognize me from it. I would love for Nike to hand over that tape now that I'm older."

Crawford didn’t care about going viral at the time. Matter of fact, he was annoyed when people brought it up.

“For a whole bunch of years, I was like, 'Man, I'm way more than a dunker. I don't want to talk about no dunk on LeBron. Y'all see how nice I am at basketball?' That was my take,” Crawford said. “But now, I'm like, it's cool now that I'm older. It was definitely a dope thing that happened. That was the first time I felt like the world heard about me, and I used that to go into my Xavier career.”

While his lone season with the Musketeers was a smashing success, it didn’t necessarily get off on the best foot. At 5-3, coming off a loss at Kansas State and heading into the annual Crosstown Shootout with arch-rival Cincinnati, Mack pulled Crawford from the starting lineup for the only time that year. Crawford believes it’s the reason he made it to the NBA.

“We was in the huddle, and he was like, 'We could be (5-3) without you, Craw. You got all this hype coming in and we (5-3). We could be (5-3) if you didn't play.' So I remember just taking that and using it as motivation to be like, 'Nah, I'mma show you,'” Crawford recounts. “And he also did a thing in the offense; he designed the offense for me too as he was being critical of me, and it just turnt us up to where we made that little run, a run that I wish could've been longer. But it definitely, I feel like, propelled me to be a first-rounder.”

Altogether — alongside Tu Holloway, whom Crawford believes needs his jersey retired — he and the Musketeers put together a memorable season, including a double-overtime thriller vs. the Bearcats and a worthy NCAA Tournament showing that ended in double overtime against that same Kansas State squad in the Sweet Sixteen.

Crawford averaged a sizzling 20.5 points on 46.2% from the field and 39.1% from long range, ranking fourth in both field-goal makes and attempts in the NCAA in 2009-10. Thanks to his efforts, the then-New Jersey Nets selected him with the No. 27 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. He was traded to the Hawks that night, eventually getting dealt again at the 2011 trade deadline to the Wizards. Then, he would get moved two more times in the next three seasons. 

Regardless of his personal dealings throughout the first four years of his NBA career, Crawford still made his mark. He’d won a Player of the Week award, he had some 40-point games and he even registered some triple-doubles. Unfortunately, teams around the league weren’t ponying up the money that he and his agency at the time believed was sure to come. Frustrated and confused, Crawford left the NBA’s minimum offers on the table to pursue a career in the CBA with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, who offered him a lucrative deal.

He concedes that it was an emotional decision, and at the time, he didn’t realize the magnitude of his choice until he landed in China.

“When I came over, I actually had a real culture shock. A situation that happened with my eyelids to where they wouldn't open up all the way,” Crawford said. “I had to hold my head up just to look straight. They was only opening like a very little bit. And then when I went home, I was going to doctors. They couldn't tell me what was wrong, but like as I was home for like a month, they gradually just opened back up.”

From that point on, Crawford has not played a full season of basketball. He has been everywhere from China and Russia to Istanbul and Israel to Germany and Puerto Rico, but none of these stops have included a demanding, nearly year-long schedule. According to him, brief stints are the way he protects his love for the game. 

“I've been at the stage of my career where when I'm in the right mind space and if it's something I feel is worth me doing, I do. That's kinda how it's been,” Crawford explained. "I knew I created a name for myself to where people know I'm good enough (that) I can play anywhere. So, I used that. If I just go to these places for 10 months then come back home for a month then go back for 10 months, I'm not gonna love this shit. So it was by design.... It was the best way for me. It ain't that way for everybody, but it was the best way for me. When I have that itch to go hoop, I can give you my all. I wasn't gonna be irritated that I'm there. So it just fit me the best.”

His third stint in the CBA is just getting underway with the Sichuan Blue Whales, and the 13-year-pro is happy to be playing for the first time in 10 months. Now, he has the perspective of how to handle being away from home, and he loves the league and enjoys the lifestyle. Outside of the money he makes, he embraces the high competition level that comes with it.

“They have the money to go get the players that's just leaving the NBA or on the fringe, so they've got big names. And then, it's very competitive because you only can have two Americans on each team, so it's hard to get over here,” Crawford said. “And then, the game is 12-minute quarters. It's three games a week, so it's very competitive. It's not as grueling as Europe and overseas. It's a little shorter, it's more basketball than over there. It's kinda as close as you're gonna get to like NBA-style basketball, I think.”

In his Feb. 28 debut with the Blue Whales, Crawford poured in 14 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals on 13 attempts in 18 minutes. 

“I had 13 more I wanted to get up,” chuckled Crawford, who in the next two games dropped 18 points and 19 points with plenty of shots going up. His goal is to earn another contract and a starting gig in the CBA next season.

Crawford will always have the itch to hoop. It’s clear that after all these years, he had the itch to talk too.

“I definitely have a unique story,” Crawford said. “I think it's good to tell it every once in a while.”

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