11:28 PM PST, December 18, 2013
It is not only the picking-and-rolling and alley-and-ooping that have made the Clippers the NBA's best imitation of the Flying Wallendas.
It is also Mr. Poetry in Motion, Jamal Crawford.
He is usually their sixth man, but he has played his way lots closer to the top than that in fan appeal.
"I feel like I've really found a home here," Crawford says, and lights up with stories about running into fans at Subway and Starbucks and hanging out for a while for a chat.
"I feel like I've really connected," he says.
The attraction for NBA fans is natural, as natural as Crawford is to playing the game. If they make a movie about him, Robert Redford will play Crawford, slam dunk for a big win, and all the lights in the arena will explode.
Crawford has such a slick style, he could play the game just as easily on a trapeze. He'd fly through the air with the greatest of ease, as he does every night for the Clippers, who are delighted to have him in their high-wire act.
He is the third-leading scorer on the team, with a 16-point average, behind the franchise pillars, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. But it is more how those 16 points arrive.
Crawford glides into his jump shot like a soaring eagle. Years ago, somebody wrote that the legendary Oscar Robertson was too slick to sweat. Crawford is too smooth to wrinkle. If he were a dancer, he'd be Fred Astaire. His jump shot is Freddie Couples' whipped-cream golf swing. He floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee and is the NBA's answer to Muhammad Ali.
He has that shooter's swagger. You see him get the ball, you see the little crack of an opening between him and the defender and you know what is going to happen next. Up and in. Sometimes the net tickles a little, sometimes it doesn't even bother.
Other guys in the game have impressive range. Crawford is open when he gets to the parking lot next to the arena.
His coach, Doc Rivers, has said several times that Crawford "makes shots that no other human could."
He has a classic crossover move that he says he learned watching Isiah Thomas, Tim Hardaway and Allen Iverson.
"Iverson's was the best," Crawford says.
"It was filthy.
In NBA parlance, that is high praise.
The crossover is best described as a quick flurry of right-to-left dribble and similar quick hip and leg movement. In the old days of the NBA, before it became part pro wrestling, the referees would call that "palming the ball." Not now.
If you fake the defender out so badly with your crossover move that he looks foolish, you have "broken his ankle." Crawford is the current NBA fracture king.
He is asked if anybody in the league can stop the crossover. His next-door locker mate answers.
"Nobody," says Willie Green.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about all this is that he is 33 years old and appears to have lost no gears. He is 6 feet 5 and weighs 190 pounds. They apparently weighed him with lead in his socks.
"I feel like I have five, six, maybe seven years left," he says.
He was tabbed by Cleveland at No. 8 in the first round of the NBA draft in 2000, after a freshman year at the University of Michigan in which his popularity grew so fast that he had his own cheering section.
"The Crawford Crazies," he says. "It was a whole section of fans. l loved it."
The Cavaliers traded him immediately to the Bulls and from there he made stops at the Knicks, Warriors, Hawks and Trail Blazers, before deciding, before last season, that the Clippers would be "a perfect fit."
Most of his career, he was a starter, but the sixth-man thing took hold a few years ago, when coaches realized he was instant points off the bench. He was sixth man of the year in 2010 and has been runner-up for that honor two other times.
"I never thought much about the sixth-man stuff," he says now. "I just want to be a good pro, be ready where and when they need me."
Some of his statistics are truly stunning.
He is one of only a few players ever to score 50 points or more in at least three games.
He has played 914 games without fouling out, the longest streak of any active player.
He has made 1,587 three-pointers and is 13th all-time, just behind Kobe Bryant.
He recently surpassed the 14,000-point mark and has attempted 4,528 three-pointers.
So, you have all this, plus a person who thinks much deeper than his next jump shot. One of his mottoes is: "Basketball doesn't define me."
"I just want to treat people the way I'd like them to treat me," he says. He also says he'd like his tombstone to read: "He was a better person than a basketball player, but he was a pretty good basketball player."
The Clippers easily handled the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night at Staples, 108-95.
The high-wire act didn't need Crawford as much as usual, except for one shining moment when the Pelicans pulled dangerously close at 55-51 in the third period.
Then the butterfly floated, the three-pointer nestled into the net and New Orleans had been stung.
Crawford finished with 17 points and four assists, more than enough to help the Clippers win with the greatest of ease.
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