It was a quiet moment, nearly drowned out by the crowd's excitement over an extended Clippers run that set the tone for their eventual rout of the Detroit Pistons on Monday night.
With time out on the floor in the first quarter and the Clippers exuberant over their spectacular start on offense and dogged effort on defense, the center-court scoreboard at Staples Center showed a closeup of Jamal Crawford and congratulated him for having passed Grant Hill for 88th place on the NBA's career scoring list last Sunday. Many fans smiled. Some applauded.
Although the announcement largely got lost amid the usual in-game antics and noise, the achievement — and the tribute — were not lost on Crawford. He's a fan and student of the game, and has been since he was a kid who insisted on sleeping with a basketball and taking it wherever he went. The game was a constant for him in a life split between family in Seattle and in Los Angeles, and it became not just a profession but a calling, part of the fabric of his life.
Now 36 and the only man to win the NBA's sixth--man-of-the-year award three times, Crawford acknowledged that he was almost overwhelmed to have surpassed Hill, who finished with 17,137 career points.
"It meant a lot because he's one of the best players to ever play. He's one of the most talented players I've ever seen play basketball. And I know it's so cliche, but he's actually an even better person," Crawford said.
"He's somebody I consider one of my heroes and role models. Everything that's right about the game of basketball on and off the court, Grant Hill is that. So for me to pass him, that one was a little bit more personal."
His climb up the scoring list will continue Wednesday, when the 6-1 Clippers play host to Portland. Crawford hit only one of four shots against Detroit on Monday — though he had two steals and an assist — but that one shot he made was a three-pointer, a category in which he ranks seventh all-time with 1,939. His career points total stands at 17,151 and counting.
"I've seen the list and the names coming up are really, really impressive," he said. "They're some of my favorite players ever, whether it be Magic Johnson or Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Kevin McHale."
Wherever Crawford eventually ranks in scoring, he's in comfortable surroundings now as part of an effective second unit that has been instrumental to the Clippers' early success. Don't forget, his return to the team was doubtful in the summer of 2015 after they acquired Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith and Paul Pierce. Stephenson and Smith are long gone; Pierce has yet to play this season after spraining an ankle. Crawford signed a three-year, $42-million contract in July.
"He's in a great place, probably the best place I've seen him since I've had him," Coach Doc Rivers said, praising Crawford's ability to mentor reserves Austin Rivers and Raymond Felton. "He's been a facilitator a lot. He scores when he needs to score. He's not pressing it. He has really kind of tutored Austin and Raymond how to play together as that group. So this is the best place I've ever seen Jamal."
That's true for him professionally and personally. Crawford has an 18-year-old son and three young children with his wife, Tori, whom he married two years ago hours after he finished playing a pickup basketball game. "I think with my family, my wife, my kids, my teammates, this being home now as far as basketball goes, playing with the same guys … it's a lot of fun to be in this space."
But his niche has changed a bit. His average of 10.7 points per game so far this season is below his career average of 15.5, and his field-goal shooting (36.8%) and three-point shooting (25%) are below his career averages of 41.0% and 34.9%, respectively. He took no three-point shots against Phoenix on Oct. 31, ending a streak of 269 regular-season games and 308 games overall in which he had attempted at least one three-pointer.
His role has changed because the bench has been fortified with the additions of Felton and Marreese Speights. "It's different for me in that usually I'm the aggressive one, the attacker off the bench, but now we're attacking as a group, as a unit," Crawford said. "So some nights it will be my night, some nights it will be Raymond's night, some nights it will be [Speights'] night, but we're doing it as a group, and that's what's fun."
Winning a championship remains his ultimate goal but he will fulfill another dream Wednesday, when the Clippers distribute bobbleheads created in his image. He's depicted holding one of his sixth man awards, with the other two at his feet, with his ever-present smile.